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Title: Bedouin Love
Author: Weigall, Arthur E. P. Brome (Arthur Edward Pearse Brome)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



BEDOUIN LOVE

ARTHUR WEIGALL



                              BEDOUIN LOVE

                                   BY
                             ARTHUR WEIGALL
            _Author of “Madeline of the Desert,” “The Dweller
                          in the Desert,” etc._

                             [Illustration]

                                NEW YORK
                         GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

                            COPYRIGHT, 1922,
                       BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

                             [Illustration]

                             BEDOUIN LOVE. I

                 PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                               PAGE

        I CHOLERA                            9

       II THE CONVALESCENT                  23

      III MONIMÉ                            35

       IV BEDOUIN LOVE                      46

        V THE SQUIRE OF EVERSFIELD          58

       VI SETTLING DOWN                     73

      VII THE GAME OF SURVIVAL              87

     VIII MARRIAGE                         103

       IX IN THE WOODS                     117

        X THE END OF THE TETHER            133

       XI THE DEPARTURE                    148

      XII THE ESCAPE                       160

     XIII FREEDOM                          178

      XIV THE ISLAND OF FORGETFULNESS      195

       XV WOMAN REGNANT                    206

      XVI THE RETURN                       224

     XVII THE CATASTROPHE                  240

    XVIII DESTINY                          251

      XIX LOVE IN THE WILDERNESS           264

       XX THE ARM OF THE LAW               276

      XXI THE LAST KICK                    289

     XXII THE SHADOW OF DEATH              304



BEDOUIN LOVE



Chapter I: CHOLERA


James Champernowne Tundering-West, or, as for the time being he preferred
to be called, Jim Easton, sat himself down on the camp-bedstead in the
middle of the one habitable room of a derelict rest-house, built on the
edge of the desert some distance behind the houses of the native town of
Kôm-es-Sultân. All day long he had been feeling an uneasiness of body;
and now, when the incinerating June sun was sinking towards the glaring
mirror of the Nile, this vague disquiet developed into a very tangible
malady.

He knew precisely what was the matter with him, and his dark, angry
eyes rolled around the dirty pink-washed room, as would those of a
criminal around the place of execution. Yesterday he had arrived in
from the desert, tired out by a four-days’ journey on camel-back across
the furnace of rocks and sand which separated the gold-mines, where he
had been working, from the nearest bend of the Nile. There had been an
outbreak of cholera at the camp; and, being the only white man then
remaining at the works, which were in process of being shut down for the
summer, he had been obliged to stay at his post until, as he supposed,
the epidemic had been stamped out. Then, with a handful of natives he had
set out for the Nile Valley; but on the journey his personal servant had
contracted the dreaded sickness, and the man had died pitifully in his
arms, in the stifling shadow of a wayside rock.

The little town of Kôm-es-Sultân was a mere jumble of mud-brick houses
surrounding a whitewashed mosque; and so great was the summer heat that
one might have expected the whole place suddenly to burst into flames
and utterly to be consumed. No Europeans lived there, with the exception
of a nondescript Greek, who kept a grocery store and lent money to the
indigent natives at outrageous interest; but at the village of El Aish,
on the other side of the Nile, there was a small sugar-factory, in charge
of an amplitudinous and bearded Welshman named Morgan, who, presumably,
was now at his post, since, but a few minutes ago, the siren announcing
the end of the day’s work had sounded across the water. Although six
hundred miles above Cairo, Kôm-es-Sultân was not so isolated as its
primitive appearance suggested; for it was no more than five miles
distant from a railway-station, where, once a day, the roasting little
narrow-gauge train halted in its long journey down to Luxor.

Jim cursed his suddenly active conscience that it had not permitted him
to take this train as it passed in the morning, for already then he had
realized the probability that calamity was upon him; but he had been
constrained to remain where he was, alone in the ramshackle and parboiled
rest-house outside the town, for fear of spreading the sickness, and
he had determined to wait until an answer came from the Public Health
official at Luxor, to whom he had sent a telegram stating that his party
was infected, and that he was keeping the men together until instructions
were received. He seldom did the correct thing; but on this occasion,
when lives were at stake, he had felt that for once the freedom of the
individual had to be subordinated to the interests of the community,
repugnant though such a thought was to his independent nature.

A dismal sort of place, he thought to himself, in which to fight for
one’s life! There were two doors in the room, one bolted and barred since
the Lord knows when, the other creaking on its hinges as the scorching
wind fluttered up against it through the outer hall. A window near the
floor, with cracked, cobwebbed panes of glass, stood half open, and a
towel hung loosely from a nail in the outside shutter to another in the
inside woodwork. In the morning it had served to keep out the early sun;
but now the last rays struck through the cracks of the opposite doorway
in dusty shafts.

He had told his Egyptian overseer that he was tired, and that he did
not wish to be disturbed again until the morning; and he bade him keep
the men in the camp amongst the rocks a few hundred yards back in the
desert, and prevent them from entering the town. But in thus desiring to
be alone he had not been prompted merely by his regard for the safety of
others: he had followed also that primitive instinct which his wandering,
self-reliant manner of life had nurtured in him, that instinct which
leads a man to hide himself from, rather than to seek, his fellows when
illness is upon him. Like a sick animal he had slunk into this desolate
place of shelter; and he now prepared himself for the battle with a sense
almost of relief that he was unobserved.

He went across to the door and bolted it; then to the window, and pulled
the shutters to: but the bolt was broken and the woodwork, eaten by
white-ants, was falling to pieces. He took from his medicine-box a large
flask of brandy, a bottle of carbolic, a little phial of chlorodyne,
and a thermometer. There was a tin jug in the corner of the room, full
of water; and into this he emptied the carbolic, shaking it viciously
thereafter. Then he saturated the towel with the liquid, and replaced it
across the window.

As the first spasms attacked him and left him again, he gulped down a
stiff dose of brandy, stripped off most of his clothes, and rolled them
up in a bundle in the corner of the room; uncorked the chlorodyne, and
lay down on his mattress. His heart was beating fast, and for a while
he was shaken with fear. All his life he had smiled at death as at a
friend, and, like Marcus Aurelius, had called it but “a resting from
the vibrations of sensation and the swayings of desire, a stop upon the
rambling of thought, and a release from all the drudgery of the body.”
Yet now, when he was to do battle with it, he was afraid.

He endeavoured to laugh, and as it were mentally to snap his fingers;
and presently, perhaps under the influence of the brandy, he got up from
the bed and fetched from the outer room his guitar, which had been his
solace on many a trying occasion. Some years ago, in South Africa, he had
set to a lilting tune the lines of Procter in praise of Death; and now,
sitting on the edge of the bed, a wild haggard figure with sallow face
and black hair tumbling over his forehead, he twanged the strings and
sang the crazy words with a sort of desperation.

    King Death was a rare old fellow;
      He sat where no sun could shine,
    And he lifted his hand so yellow,
      And poured out his coal-black wine
      Hurrah, for the coal-black wine!

    There came to him many a maiden
      Whose eyes had forgot to shine,
    And widows with grief o’erladen,
      For draught of his coal-black wine.
      Hurrah, for the coal-black wine!

The heat of the room was abominable, and he mopped his forehead with his
handkerchief, and groaned aloud. Then, returning to his song, he skipped
a verse and proceeded.

    All came to the rare old fellow,
      Who laughed till his eyes dropped brine,
    And he gave them his hand so yellow,
      And pledged them in Death’s black wine.
      Hurrah, for the coal-black wine!

The sun set and the stars came out. At length, overcome with sickness, he
thrust the guitar aside, and staggered across the room; and presently,
when he was somewhat recovered, he groped for a candle, lit it, stuck it
in an empty bottle, and lay down again with a gasp of pain.

Now the battle began in earnest, and he made no further attempt to
laugh. Taut and racked, he stared up at the dim, cobwebbed ceiling, and
swore that no man should come near him so long as there was danger of
infection. He was, perhaps, a little pig-headed on this point; but such
was his nature. “Live, and let live” had ever been his motto; and now he
was putting into practice the second half of that maxim.

The thought occurred to him that he ought to write a will, or some
general instructions, in case the “rare old fellow” were triumphant;
but, on consideration, he abandoned the idea for the good reason that he
had neither property worth mentioning to leave, nor relations to whom he
would care to address his last message. Moreover, in his momentary relief
from pain, he felt extraordinarily disinclined to bother himself.

He had an uncle—Stephen—who was in possession of a little estate at
Eversfield, a small English village in the neighbourhood of Oxford, where
the Tundering-Wests had lived for many generations; but he had not seen
much of this correct and conventional personage during his childhood, and
nothing at all for the last ten years, since he had been a grown man and
a wanderer. This uncle had two sons, his cousins: one of them, Mark by
name, was, he believed, in India; the other, called James like himself,
lived at home. They were his sole relations, he being an only child, and
his father and mother having died two or three years ago, leaving him a
few hundred pounds, which he had quickly lost.

There was nobody who would care very much if he pegged out, and in this
thought there was a sort of gloomy comfort. Moreover, he was known by his
few friends in Egypt and elsewhere as Jim Easton; for, many years ago,
at a time when he was reduced to utter penury, he had thought it best to
hide his identity, lest interfering persons should communicate with his
relations. In the name of Jim Easton he had wandered from place to place,
and in that name he had obtained this job at the gold mines; and if now
he were to die, the fate of James Tundering-West would remain a matter of
speculation. That was as it should be: ever since he left England he had
been a bird of passage, and is it not a rarity to see a dead bird? Nobody
knows where they all die, or how: with few exceptions, they seem, as it
were, to fade away; and thus he, too, would disappear.

He rolled his eyes around his prison, and clapped his hand with pathetic
drama to his burning forehead. “Wretched bird!” he muttered, addressing
himself. “It was in you to soar to the heights, to go rushing up to the
sun and the planets, with strong, driving wings. But the winds were
always contrary, or the attractions of the lower air were too alluring;
and now you are sunk to the earth, and may be you will never make that
great assault upon the stars of which you had always dreamed.”

He dismissed these useless ruminations. He was not going to die: life and
the lure of the unattained were still before him.

Another and another spasm smote him, tore him asunder, and left him
shaking upon the bed. With a trembling hand he mixed the brandy and
chlorodyne, making little attempts to measure the dose. The candle
spluttered on the floor near by, and strange insects buzzed around it,
singed themselves, and fell kicking on their backs.

He opened his eyes and watched them as he lay on his side, his knees
drawn up, and his hands gripping the edge of the bed. Their agonies, no
doubt, were as great as his, but, being small, they did not matter. He,
too, as Englishmen go, was not large; and it was very apparent that he
did not much matter. He was of the lean and medium-sized variety of the
race, and was of the swarthy type which is often to be found in the far
south-west of England, where his family had had its origin. Some people
might have termed him picturesque: others might have said, and most
certainly just now would have said, that he looked a bit mad.

At length he slept for a few minutes; but his dreams were hideous, and
full of faces, which came close to him, growing bigger and bigger,
until, with strange and melancholy grimaces, they receded once more into
infinite distance. Somebody grey, ponderous, and very fearful, counted
endless numbers, now slowly and portentously, now with such increasing
rapidity that his brain reeled.

In this manner the seemingly endless night passed on: a few moments of
sleep, a disjointed procession of horrible fantasies, convulsions of
pain, staggerings across the room, fallings back on the bed, brandy, and
exhausted sleep again. But all the while he knew that he was growing
weaker.

Presently the candle went out, and the darkness closed over his agony.
The thought came to him that soon he would no longer have the power to
dose himself, and with it came that human desire for aid which no animal
instinct of segregation can wholly stifle in a heart weary with pain. It
was now long past midnight, and from this time till sunrise he fought a
terrible double battle, on the one hand with Death, on the other with
Self. It would not be impossible, he knew, to crawl from the room into
the silent desert outside, and a cry for help would possibly be heard by
his men.

But what would happen? They would go into the town, doubtless carrying
the infection with them, and would engage a boat in which they would row
across the Nile to fetch Morgan, who had the reputation of being somewhat
of a doctor. But Morgan had a wife and child in Wales, who were dependent
on him: only last autumn that hairy giant had told him all about them as
they sat drinking warm lager in the dusty garden by the river, one hot
night, just before the mining party had set out for the distant works.

Thus, when at long last the sun rose and glared into the room, above and
below the fluttering towel, he was still alone.

At nine o’clock, as the day’s heat and the onslaught of the flies began
again to be intolerable, he gave up hope. Until that hour he had fought
his fight with decency; but now convulsion on convulsion had dragged
the strength out of him, and he was no longer able to crawl back on to
the bedstead. The last drops of brandy in a tumbler by his side, he lay
limply on the floor; and where he lay, there the spasms racked him,
and there he fainted. With the hope for life went also the desire, and
each time that he came to himself he prayed to God for the mercy of
unconsciousness. The dying words of Anne Boleyn, which he had read years
ago, recurred again and again to his mind: “O Death, rocke me aslepe;
bringe me on quiet rest.” He kept saying them over to himself, not with
his lips, for they were parched, but somewhere deep down in the nightmare
of his wandering brain.

Presently a gust of blistering wind flicked the towel from its nail
in the window, and with that the creaking shutter slammed back on its
hinges, and the sun streamed full on to the white figure on the floor.
Jim opened his eyes, bloodshot and wild, and stared out on to the rocks
and sandy drifts. A few sparrows were hopping about languidly in the
shade of a ruinous wall, their beaks open as though they were panting
for breath. The sky was leaden, for the glare of the sun seemed to have
sucked out the colour from all things, even from the yellow sand, which
now had the neutral hue of Egyptian dust.

This, then, was the end!—and he could shut up his life as a book that
has been read. At the age of nineteen he had abandoned the humdrum but
respectable City career towards which he was being headed by his father,
and, having nigh broken the parental heart, had gone out to Korea as
handyman to a gold-mining company. He had dreamed of riches; his mind had
been full of the thought of gold and its power. He had imagined himself
buying a kingdom for his own, as it were.

Two years later, utterly disillusioned, he had taken ship to California,
and had earned his living in many capacities, until chance had carried
him to the Aroe Islands in the pearl trade, and later to the diamond
mines of South Africa. Incidentally, he had become, after three or four
years, something of an expert in estimating the value of diamonds, and
had made a few hundred pounds by barter; but with this sum in the bank
he had failed to resist the vagrancy of his nature and the enticement of
his dreams, and had returned to Europe to wander through Italy, France,
and Spain: not altogether in idleness, for being addicted to scribbling
his thoughts in rhyme, and twisting and turning his speculations into the
various shapes of recognized verse, he had filled many notebooks with
jottings and impressions which he believed to be more or less worthless.

Then he had inherited his father’s small savings, and had been induced by
a persuasive friend to invest them in an expedition to Ceylon in search
of a mythical field of moonstones. Returning in absolute poverty, owning
nothing but his guitar and the threadbare clothes in which he stood,
he had landed at Port Said, and so had taken reluctant service in this
somewhat precarious gold-mining company at a salary which had now placed
a small sum to his credit on the company’s books.

A roaming, dreaming, sun-baked, Bedouin life!—and this ending of it in
a stifling, tumbledown rest-house seemed to be the most natural wind-up
of the whole business. Often he had enjoyed himself; he had played with
romance; he had had his great moments; but at times he had suffered under
a sense of utter loneliness, and these last months at the mines in the
desert had been a miserable exile, only relieved by those silent hours
in his tent at night, when he had endeavoured to put into written words
the tremendous thoughts of his teeming brain. And now death and oblivion
appeared to him as something very eagerly to be desired—a great sleep,
where the horrible sun and the flies could not reach him, and an eternal
relief from all this agony, all this messiness.

He fumbled for the last of the brandy, knocked the glass over and smashed
it. The liquid ran along the floor to his face, and he put out his dry
tongue and licked up a little. Then, as though remembering his manners,
he rolled away from it, and shut his eyes.

When consciousness came again to him somebody was knocking at the outer
door in the hall beyond. A few minutes later there was a shuffling step,
and a rap upon the inner door.

“Sir, are you awake?” It was the voice of his Egyptian overseer.

Jim raised himself on his elbows, thereby disturbing the crowd of
crawling flies which had settled upon his face and body, and slowly
turned his head in the direction of the speaker. “Go away, you idiot!” he
husked. “I’ve got cholera. I’m dying.”

“What you say?” came the voice from the other side. “I cannot hear you.”

“I’ve got cholera,” he repeated, with an effort which seemed to be
bursting his heart. Then, with another purpose: “I’m nearly well now ...
all right in an hour ... keep away!”

The footsteps shuffled off hurriedly, then stopped. “I go fetch Meester
Morgan: he is here this mornin’. I seen him comin’ ’cross the river,” the
man called out; and the footsteps passed out of hearing.

Another convulsion: but this time there was no power of resistance
remaining, and long before the spasm ceased he had fainted. The next
thing of which he was aware was that the heavy footstep of Morgan was
coming towards the house. That frightened rat of an overseer had fetched
him, then, and the gigantic fool was going to take the risk! What use
was he now? There was easy Death already almost in possession: not the
laughing, rare old fellow of his song, but beautiful desirable Rest.

He was powerless to stop the man. His voice failed to rise above a
whisper when he attempted to call out a warning. Suddenly his eye lighted
on the jug of carbolic a yard away. At least he could lessen the danger.
Slowly, and with infinite pain, he wormed himself over the floor, until
his limp arm touched the jug, and his fingers closed over the mouth.
A feeble pull, and the jug tottered; another, and it fell over with a
clatter, and the strong disinfectant ran in a stream around him, under
him, through his hair, through his scanty clothes, and away across the
room.

The handle of the door rattled. “Are you there, Easton? Let me in!—I know
how to doctor you.” Another rattle. “Let me in, or I’ll come round by the
window.”

But Jim did not answer. He lay still and deathlike as the hulking figure
of Morgan scrambled into the room through the window, and knelt down
by his side on the wet floor. The place reeked of carbolic: everything
was saturated with it. Morgan stepped through it to the door, and pulled
back the bolts. Then, slipping and sliding, he dragged the half-naked,
dishevelled body by the armpits into the outer room, and, propping it up
against his knees, felt for the pulse in the nerveless wrist.

The morning sun poured in through the broken-down verandah, glistening on
the damp hair of the exhausted sufferer, and gleaming upon the bearded,
sweating face of the good Samaritan.

Jim opened his eyes, and his cracked lips moved. “Don’t be a damned
fool,” he whispered. “Don’t take such a risk ... every man for
himself....” His head fell forward once more, and his eyes closed.

“Oh, rot!” said Morgan. “You brave little chap!—I think you’ve got a
chance, please God.”



Chapter II: THE CONVALESCENT


A native doctor belonging to the Ministry of Public Health arrived at
Kôm-es-Sultân during the afternoon, having travelled up from Luxor
in response to the telegram reporting the infection; and to his care
the patient was handed over by Morgan, who had refused to budge until
proper arrangements could be made. When, a few days later, the sick
man was able to be moved, he was conveyed down to Luxor in a small
river-steamer belonging to the sugar factory; and, after ten days in
the local hospital, where, in spite of the great heat, he was very
tolerably comfortable, he was able to go north in the sleeping-car which,
on certain nights during the summer weeks, was attached to the Cairo
express, for the benefit of perspiring English officers coming down from
the Sudan, and weary officials whose work had called them out into these
sun-scorched districts of Upper Egypt.

The doctor in Cairo advised him to move down to the sea as soon as
possible; and thus, one early evening at the end of June, as the glare
of the day was giving place to the long shadows of sunset, Jim found
himself driving through the streets of Alexandria towards the little
Hotel des Beaux-Esprits which stands at the edge of the Mediterranean,
not far outside the city, and which had been recommended to him as the
inexpensive resort of artists and men of letters.

He leant back in the carriage luxuriously, and drank the cool air into
his lungs with a satisfaction which those alone may understand who have
known what it is to make this journey out of the inferno of an Upper
Egyptian summer into the comparatively temperate climate of the sea
coast. The streets of Alexandria are much like those of an Italian or
southern French city; and as he looked about him at the pleasant shops
and the crowds of pedestrians, for the most part European or Levantine,
he felt as though he had recovered from some sort of tortured madness,
and had suddenly come back to the comprehension and the relish of
intelligent life.

For the present there was nothing to mar his happiness. The greater
part of a year’s salary lay awaiting him in the bank, for in the desert
there had been no means of spending money, and his losses had equalled
his winnings at those daily games of cards which had at length become so
tedious. The mines would remain idle in any event until the temperature
began to fall, in September; and thus for the two months of his summer
leave he could take his ease, and could postpone for some weeks yet his
decision as to whether he would return to that fiery exile, or would fare
forth again upon his nomadic travels.

His recent experiences had been a severe shock to him, and for the time
being, at any rate, he felt that he never wished to see the desert again.
But perhaps when a few weeks of this cool sea air had set him on his
feet once more, the thought of his return to the mines would have lost
its terror.

At the hotel he was received by the fat and motherly proprietress, who,
having diffidently asked for and enthusiastically received a week’s
payment in advance, led him to an airy room overlooking the sea, and left
him with many assurances that he would here speedily recover from the
indefinite stomachic disturbances which he told her had recently laid him
low.

On his way through Cairo he had purchased quite a respectable suit of
white linen, and so soon as he was alone he set about the happy business
of arraying himself as a civilized personage. Although much exhausted by
his journey he was eager to go down and sit at one of the little tables
overlooking the sea, there to drink his _bouillon_, and to make himself
acquainted with his fellow guests; and he paid very little regard to
the shaking of his knees and the apparent swaying of the floor when a
struggle with his unruly hair had taxed his strength. Prudence suggested
that he should remain in his room and rest; but, having been in exile
so long, he could not resist the desire to be downstairs, enjoying
the coolness of the evening, looking at people and talking to them,
or listening to the music provided by the mandolines and guitars of a
company of Italians who, presumably, earned their living by going the
round of the smaller hotels, and the strains of whose romantic songs now
came to him, mingled with the gentle surge of the waves.

Presently, therefore, he issued from his room, and, making for the
stairs, found himself walking behind a young woman similarly purposed.
He had not spoken to a female of any kind for nearly a year, and this
fact may have accounted for the quite surprising impression her back
view made upon him. It seemed to him that she had a wonderful pair of
shoulders, startling black hair, and an excellent figure excellently
garbed. He hoped devoutly that she was pretty; but, as she turned to
glance at him, he saw that her face was perhaps more interesting than
actually beautiful. It was like an ancient Egyptian bas-relief—an Isis or
a Hathor. It was sufficiently strange, indeed, with the high cheek-bones,
the raven-black hair, and the wise, smiling mouth, to arouse his
curiosity, and her dark-fringed grey eyes seemed frankly to invite his
admiration.

At the foot of the stairs, when he was close behind her, he suddenly felt
giddy again, and swayed towards her; at which she stared at him in cold
surprise.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, clutching at the banister, and wondering
why the light had become so dim.

A moment later he pitched forward, grabbed at the hand she instantly held
out to him, and knew no more.

When he recovered consciousness he was lying upon the bed in his own
room, and this black-haired woman whom he had seen upon the stairs was
leaning over him—like a mother, he thought—dabbing his forehead with
water.

“That’s better,” he heard her say. “You’ll be all right now.”

He sat up, at once fully aware of his situation. “I’m awfully sorry,” he
exclaimed. “Did I faint?”

“Yes,” was the answer. “I caught you as you fell.”

Jim swore under his breath. “I’ve been ill,” he said. “I didn’t realize I
was so weak. Did I make an awful ass of myself?”

“No,” she smiled, “you did it quite gracefully; and there was nobody
about; they were all at dinner.”

“Who brought me up here?” he asked.

“I and the two native servants,” she laughed, and her laughter was
pleasant to hear. “Are you in the habit of fainting?”

“I’ve never fainted before in my life,” said Jim, warmly, “until I had
this go of cholera.”

“Cholera?” she ejaculated. “You’ve had _cholera_? How long ago?”

“Oh, I’m not infectious,” he smiled. “It was quite a while ago.” He gave
her the facts with weary brevity: it was a picture that he wished to
banish from the gallery of his memory.

“But, my dear friend,” she said, “when you’ve just come out of the jaws
of death like that, you must take things easy. You ought to be in bed,
toying with a spoonful of jelly and a grape. What’s your name?”

“Jim,” he answered. “What’s yours?”

“That is of no consequence,” she replied, smiling at him, as he thought
to himself, like a heathen idol.

He was silent for a few moments. He was not quite sure whether it
would not now be as well to kill Mr. Easton and resuscitate Mr.
Tundering-West, for at the moment he was anxious to forget entirely
his Bedouin life and his exile at the mines, and he was no longer a
disreputable beggar.

“I’ll call you ‘Sister,’” he said at length. “That’s what the patients at
the hospital call the nurse, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a nurse,” she replied. “I’ve torn your collar
in getting it open, and I’ve dripped water all down your coat.”

“I bumped into you when I fell, didn’t I?” he asked, trying to recollect
what had happened.

“Yes,” she answered. “I thought you were drunk.”

“Thanks awfully,” he said.

“Have you any friends to look after you?” she enquired presently.

“No, nobody, Sister,” he replied. “Have you?”

She shook her head. “I hardly know anybody, either. I’m a painter. I’ve
just come over from Italy to do some work.” She fetched a towel from the
washing-stand. “Now, hold your head up, and let me dry your neck.”

“I suppose you don’t happen to have a brandy and soda about you?” he
asked, when she had tidied him up. He was feeling very fairly well again,
but sorely in need of a stimulant.

“I’ll go and get you one,” she replied; and before he could make any
polite protest she had left the room.

He got up at once from the bed, went with shaking legs to the
dressing-table and stared at himself in the glass. “Good Lord!” he
muttered. “I look like an organ-grinder after a night out.” He combed
his damp hair back from his forehead, and sat himself down on the
sofa near the open window, a shaded candle by his side. The night was
soothingly windless and quiet, and a wonderful full moon was rising clear
of the haze above the sea; and so extraordinary was it to him to feel the
air about him temperate and kind that presently a mood of great content
descended upon him, and, after his startling experience, he was no longer
restless to join the company downstairs.

In a short time his nurse returned, bringing him the brandy-and-soda; and
when this had been swallowed he began to think the world a very pleasant
place.

She fetched two pillows from the bed, and in motherly fashion placed them
behind his head; then, sitting down on a small armchair which stood near
the sofa, she asked him whether he intended to stay long in Alexandria.

“I have no plans,” he told her. “As long as I’ve got any money in the
bank I never do have any. When the money’s spent, then I shall begin to
think what to do next. I’m just one of the Bedouin of life.”

“I am a wanderer, too,” she said. And therewith they began to talk to one
another as only wanderers can talk. There were many places in France and
Italy known to them both, and it appeared that they had been in Ceylon
at the same time, she in Colombo, and he up-country in search of his
moonstones.

He felt very much at ease with her, coming soon, indeed, to regard her
as a potential confidant of his dreams. Her enigmatic face was curiously
attractive to him, particularly so, in fact, just now, with the screen of
the candle casting a soft shadow upon it, so that the grey eyes seemed to
be looking at him through a veil. He began to wonder, indeed, why it was
that at first sight he had not regarded her as beautiful.

For half an hour or more they talked quietly but eagerly together, while
the moon rose over the sea until its pale light penetrated into the room,
and blanched the heavy shadows.

“Well, I’m very glad I fainted,” he said, lightly, observing that she was
about to take her departure.

“So am I,” she answered, smiling at him as though all the secrets of all
the world were in her wise keeping.

“Tell me, Sister,” he asked. “Are you all alone in the world?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think it’s quite correct to be sitting in a strange man’s room?”

“Perfectly.”

“Tramp!” he said.

“Vagrant!” she replied.

She rose, and stood awhile gazing out of the open window—a mysterious
figure, looking like old gold in the light of the reading-lamp, set
against the sheen of the moon.

“It’s a wonderful night,” he remarked. “You have no idea what it means to
me to feel cool and comfortable. The desert up-country is the very devil
in summer.”

“Yes,” she replied, turning to him, “one can understand why Cleopatra and
her Ptolemy ancestors left the old cities of the south, and built their
palaces here beside the sea.”

He smiled, knowingly. “If she had lived up there in Thebes where the old
Pharaohs sweated, there wouldn’t have been any affair with Antony. She
would have been too busy taking cold baths and whisking the flies away.
But down here—why, the sound of the sea in the night would have been
enough by itself to do the trick.”

She looked at him curiously. “To me,” she said, “the sound of the sea on
a summer night is the most tragic and the most beautiful thing in the
world. If I ever gave up wandering and came to rest, it would be in a
little white villa somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean.”

“No, for my part, I want to go north just now,” he rejoined. “I’m tired
of the east and the south: I’ve got a longing for England.”

“It won’t last,” she smiled. “You don’t fit in with England, somehow.”

“Oh, I’m a typical Devon man,” he declared, recalling, with a sudden
feeling of pride, the original home of his family, previous to their
migration into Oxfordshire.

She looked at him with a smile. “That accounts for it,” she said. “The
men of Devon so often have the wandering spirit.” She held out her hand.
“I must go now. Good night!—I’ll come and see how you are in the morning.
My room is next to yours, if you want anything.”

“Good night, Sister!” he answered. “I’m most awfully obliged to you.
You’ve done me a power of good.”

She smiled at him with the calm, mysterious expression of the old gods
and goddesses carved upon the temple walls, and went out of the room;
and thereafter he lay back on his pillows, musing on her attractive
personality, and wondering who she was. He was still wondering when, some
minutes later, the native servant entered with a tray upon which there
was a cup of soup, some jelly, and a bunch of grapes.

“Madam she say you to drink it _all_ the soup,” said the man, “but only
eat three grapes, only _three_, she say, sir, please.”

“Very well,” Jim answered, feeling rather pleased thus to receive orders
from her.

That night he slept soundly, and awoke refreshed and almost vigorous.
After breakfast in bed he got up, and he had been dressed for some time
when his self-constituted nurse came to him.

“Oh, I’m glad you’re up,” she said, giving his hand an honest shake. “I’m
going to take you out on the verandah downstairs. It’s beautifully cool
there.”

Jim was delighted. She looked so very nice this morning, he thought, in
her pretty summer dress and wide-brimmed hat; and her smile was radiant.
He held an impression from the night before that she was a creature of
mystery, a woman out of a legend; and it was quite a relief to him to
find that now in the daylight she was a normal being.

As they descended the stairs she put her hand under his elbow to aid him,
and, though the assistance was quite unnecessary, it pleased him so much
that he was conscious of an inclination to play the invalid with closer
similitude than actuality warranted. Nobody had ever looked after him
since he was a child, and, as in the case of all men who believe they
detest feminine aid, the experience was surprisingly gratifying.

On the verandah they sat together in two basket chairs, and presently
she so directed their conversation that he found himself talking to her
as though she were his oldest friend. He told her tales of the desert,
described his life at the mines, and tried to explain the dread he felt
at the thought of returning to them. There was no complaint in his words:
he was something of a fatalist, and, being obliged to earn his bread and
butter, he supposed his lot to be no worse than that of hosts of other
men. After all, anything was better than sitting on an office stool.

She listened to him, encouraging him to talk; and the morning was gone
before he suddenly became conscious that she and not he had played the
part of listener.

“Good lord!” he exclaimed. “How I must be boring you! There goes the bell
for _déjeuner_. Why didn’t you stop me?”

“I was interested,” she replied, turning her head aside. “You have shown
me a part of life I knew nothing about. My own wanderings have been so
much more sophisticated, so much more ordinary.” She looked round at him
quickly. “By the way, I am leaving you to-morrow. I have to go to Cairo
for a week or so.”

Jim’s face fell. “Oh damn!” he said. His disappointment was intense.
“Why should you go to Cairo?” he asked gloomily. “It’s a beastly, hot,
unhealthy place at this time of year.”

“I shan’t be gone long,” she answered. “I just have to paint one picture.
And when I come back I shall expect to find you strong and well once
more. Then we can do all sorts of wonderful things together.” She paused,
looking at him intently. “That is something for us to look forward to,”
she added, as though she were talking to herself.



Chapter III: MONIMÉ


Jim felt the absence of his new friend keenly. She had left for Cairo
quietly and unobtrusively, just driving away from the little hotel with a
wave of her hand to him, following a few words of good advice as to his
diet and behaviour. He had asked her where she was going to stay, hinting
that he would like to write to her; but she had evaded a definite reply,
saying merely that she was going to the house of some friends. A woman is
a figure behind a veil. It is her nature to elude, it is her happiness
to have something to conceal; and man, more direct, often finds in her
reticence upon some unimportant matter a cause of deep mystification.

“I don’t even know your name,” he had almost wailed, and she had
answered, gravely, “Jemima Smith,” as though she expected him to believe
it. The hotel register, which he thereupon consulted, contained but three
pertinent words: “Mdlle. Smith, Londres,” written in the hand of the
French proprietress, and that fat personage laughed good-naturedly and
shrugged her shoulders when he questioned the accuracy of the entry.

The first days seemed dull without her; but soon the brilliance of the
Alexandrian summer took hold of his mind, and dressed his thoughts in
bright colours. His strength returned to him rapidly, and within the
week he was once more a normal being, able to sprawl upon the beach
in the mornings in the shade of the rocks, staring out over the azure
seas, and able, in the cool of the late afternoons, to go to the Casino
to listen to the orchestra and watch the cosmopolitan crowd taking its
twilight promenade.

And then, one evening, just before dinner, as he sat himself down in a
basket chair outside the long windows of his bedroom, high above the
surge of the breakers, he glanced into the room next door, which led
out on to the same balcony, and there stood his friend, unpacking a
dressing-case upon a table before her.

She saw him at the same moment, and at once came forward, but Jim in his
enthusiasm was half-way into her room when their hands met.

“Oh, I _am_ glad to see you!” he exclaimed, working her arm up and down
as though it were a pump-handle. “It’s just like seeing an old friend
again.”

She smiled serenely. “Well, we’ve had a week to think each other over,”
she said. She turned to her dressing-case and produced a small parcel.
“Here, I’ve brought you something from Cairo.”

It was only a box of cigarettes of a brand he had happened to mention in
commendation; but the gift, and her words, set his brain in a whirl, and
for some minutes he talked the wildest nonsense to her. He was flattered
that she had turned her thoughts to him while she was in Cairo; and now,
standing in her bedroom, he was possessed by a feeling of intimacy with
her. He wanted to put his arm round her, or place his hand upon her
shoulder, or kiss her fingers, or pull her hat off, or lift her from the
ground, or something of that kind. Yet he felt at the same time a kind
of dread lest he should offend her. He was perhaps a little bewildered
in her presence, for, in some indefinable way, she represented an aspect
of femininity which he had only known in imagination. There was nothing
of the coquette about her: there was a great deal of royalty. He was
inclined, indeed, to wait upon her favours, to accept her _largesse_,
rather than to ply her with pretty speeches and attentions; but he was by
no means certain that this was the correct method of pleasing her, and
he stood now before her, running his hands through his hair and talking
excitedly.

Presently, however, she told him to go downstairs and to wait there for
her until she was ready to dine with him. He would readily have waited
all night for her, had she bid him; and when, after nearly an hour, she
joined him, dressed in a soft and seductive evening garment, he led her
to their table on the terrace under the stars like a bridegroom at the
first stage of his honeymoon.

In all the world there is no conjunction of time and place more seemly
for romance than that of a night in June beside the Alexandrian surf. The
terrace whereon their table was set was built out upon a head of rocks
against the base of which the rolling waves of the Mediterranean surged
unseen in the darkness below, as they had surged in the days when Antony
lay dreaming here in the arms of Cleopatra. The whitewashed walls of the
little hotel, with the green-shuttered windows and open doorway throwing
forth a warm illumination, differed in appearance but little from those
of a Greek villa of that far-off age; and the stately palms around the
building seemed in their dignity conscious of their descent from the
palms of the Courts of the Pharaohs.

Across the bay the lights of the city were reflected in the water, and
overhead the stars scintillated like a million diamonds spread upon blue
velvet. The night was warm and breathless, and the shaded candles upon
the table burnt with a steady flame, throwing a rosy glow upon the intent
faces of the two who sat here alone, the other guests having finished
their meal and gone to the far side of the hotel, where the guitars and
mandolines were thrumming.

Their conversation wandered from subject to subject: it was as though
they were feeling their way with one another, each eagerly attempting
to discover the thoughts of the other, each anxious that no fundamental
disagreement should be revealed, and relieved as point after point of
accord was found. To Jim it seemed as though the gates of his heart
were being slowly rolled back, and as though the strange, wise face, so
close to his own, were peering into the sanctuary of his soul, demanding
admittance and possession.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed at length. “This is too ridiculous! Here am I
falling in love with a woman whose very name I don’t know.”

She smiled serenely at him, as though his words were the most natural in
the world. “Why not call me Monimé?” she said. “Some people call me that.
Do you know the story of Monimé?”

Jim shook his head.

“She was a Grecian girl who lived in the city of Miletus on the banks
of Mæander, the wandering river of Phrygia, and there she might have
lived all her life, and might have married and had six children; but
Mithridates, King of Pontus, saw her one day and fell in love with her
and somehow managed to make her believe she loved him, too.”

The mandolines in the distance were playing the haunting melody
“Sorrento,” and the soft refrain, blending with the sound of the sea,
formed a dreamy accompaniment to the story.

“He carried her away and gave her a golden diadem, and made her his
queen; but the legions of Rome came and defeated Mithridates, and he sent
his eunuch, Bacchides, to her, here in Alexandria, where she had fled,
bidding her kill herself, as he was about to do, rather than endure the
disgrace of her adopted dynasty. She did not want to die, but, like an
obedient wife, she took the diadem from her head, and tried to strangle
herself by fastening the silken cords around her throat.”

“I remember now,” said Jim. “It is one of the stories from Plutarch. Go
on.”

“The cords broke, and thereupon she uttered that famous, bitter cry: ‘O
wretched diadem, unable to help me even in this little matter!’ And she
threw it from her, and ordered Bacchides to kill her with his sword....”

She paused and stared with fixed gaze across the bay to the lights of
Ras-el-Tîn, and those of the houses which stood where once Cleopatra’s
palace of the Lochias had towered above the sea.

The native waiter had removed the débris of their meal from the table,
and the candles had been extinguished. Her hands rested upon the arms of
her chair, and there was that in her attitude which in the dim light of
the waning moon, now rising over the sea, suggested a Pharaonic statue.

“She died just over there across the water,” she said at length. “Poor
Monimé....”

Jim put his hand upon hers. Very slowly she turned to him, looked him in
the eyes steadily, looked down at his hand, and then again looked into
his face.

“Monimé,” he whispered, and presently, receiving no response, he added,
“What are you thinking about?”

“The River Mæander,” she answered. “Our word ‘meander’ is derived from
that name, because of the river’s wanderings. I was thinking how I have
meandered through life, and now....”

“I have no diadem to offer you,” he said fervently; “but all that I have
is yours to-night. I know nothing about you: I don’t know where you come
from; I don’t know your name. I know only that you have come to me out
of my dreams. It’s as though you were not real at all—just part of this
Alexandrian night; and I want to hold you close to me, so that you shall
not fade away from me.”

She did not answer, and presently he asked her if she had nothing to say
to him.

“No,” she replied, “there is nothing to be said, Jim. This thing has come
to us so quickly: it may pass away again so soon. It is better to say
little.”

There came into his mind those lines of Shelley

    One word is too often profaned
      For me to profane it....

Yet he must needs utter that word, though the past and the future rise up
to belittle it.

“I love you,” he whispered. “Monimé, I love you.”

“Men have said that to me before,” she answered, “and there was one man
whom I believed.... We built the house of our life upon that foundation,
but it fell to ruins all the same. Soon he ceased to tell me that he
loved me.”

“You are a married woman then?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Tell me who you are,” he begged.

She shook her head. “No,” she replied. “I have no name. I have left him.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because we disliked one another. It seemed to me altogether wrong that a
man and a woman totally out of sympathy with one another should continue
to live together. So I made my exit. I live by selling my pictures.”

“Were there any children?” he asked.

“No,” she answered. “If there had been, I suppose I should have remained
with him. Like flowers, they hide many a sepulchre.”

“It was brave of you to go,” he said.

“I felt it to be a woman’s right,” she declared, spreading her hands in
a gesture of conviction. “Since then I have been a wanderer. I’ve had
some hours of happiness, some of loneliness, but always there has been
my independence to cheer me, and the knowledge that I have been faithful
to my sex, and have not misled others by the usual shams and pretences of
the disillusioned wife.”

“And what about the future?” he asked.

“My dear,” she smiled, “the future is a veil of fog that only lifts
for the passage of a soul. When I am about to die I will tell you of
my future. But now, while I am in the midst of life, only the present
counts.”

For some time they talked; but at length when the little band of
musicians, whose songs had formed a distant accompaniment to their
thoughts, had gone their way, and the sound of the sea alone traversed
the silence, she suggested that he should bring down his guitar and play
to her.

“The proprietress tells me she has heard you playing in your room,” she
smiled. “She described it as _très agréable mais un peu mélancolique_.”

Jim was not very willing to comply, for he had been termed a howling
jackal at the mines, and, indeed, he had once been obliged to black a
man’s eye for throwing something at him. He had no wish to fight anybody
to-night.

His companion, however, was so insistent that he was obliged to fetch
the instrument and to sing to her. The darkness aided him in overcoming
a feeling of shyness, and presently he passed into a mood which was
conducive to song. He sang at first in quiet tones, and his fingers
struck so lightly upon the strings that sometimes the rich chords were
lost in the murmur of the surf. From sad old negro melodies he passed
to curious chanties of the sea, and thence to the wistful music of
the Italian peasants; and as he sang his diffidence left him, and soon
his fine voice was strong enough to be heard in the hotel, so that
the proprietress and some of her guests came tip-toeing out and stood
listening near the open door, the light from the passage illuminating
their motionless figures and casting their black shadows across the
gravel and on to the encircling palms.

“Listen,” said Jim, at length. “I’ll sing you some verses I made up when
I was in Ceylon.”

It was a song which told of a silent, enchanted city built by ancient
kings upon the shores of an uncharted sea, where there were pavilions of
white marble whose pinnacles shot up to the stars, seeming to touch the
Milky Way, and whose domes were so lofty that at moonrise their silver
orbs were still tinged with the gold of the sunset. It told how here,
upon a bed of crystal, there slept a woman whose hair was as dark as the
wrath of heaven, whose breast was as white as the snowclad mountain-tops,
and whose lips were as red as sin; and how, upon a hot, still night there
came a lost mariner to these shores, who passed up through the deserted
streets of the city, and ascended a thousand stairs to the crystal couch,
and kissed the mouth of the sleeper....

When he had ended the song there was a moment of silence before Monimé
turned to him. “Do you mean to tell me,” she exclaimed, “that you have to
earn your living at the mines when you can write verses like that?”

“Oh, it’s only doggerel,” he laughed, “and I cribbed most of the music
from things I’d heard.”

“Have you got the poem written down?” she asked.

“No, I’ve lost my only copy,” he answered. “I stuffed it into a hole
in the woodwork of my berth on a certain tramp steamer, to keep the
cockroaches from coming out. I never could get used to cockroaches.”

“Jim,” she said, taking his hands in hers, “you are wasting your life.”

“I am living for the first time to-night,” he replied.

It was midnight when at length they ascended the stairs to their rooms,
but there was on his part a mere pretence of bidding good-night at their
doors. He knew well enough that presently he would attempt to renew their
wonderful romance upon the balcony which connected their two rooms; but
for the moment the serene inscrutability of her face baffled him. She
neither made advance towards him, nor retreat from him. She seemed,
mentally, to be standing her ground, undisturbed, unmoved. The wisdom of
the ages was in her eyes, and the smile of precognition was on her lips.

In love, man is so simple, woman so wise. Man blunders along, taking
his chance as to whether he shall find favour or give offence; woman
alone knows when the great moment has come, that moment when the time
and the place and the person are plaited into the perfect pattern. Some
women betray that knowledge in their agitation; some are made shy by
the revelation; some, again, have the imperturbable confidence of their
intuition, and these last alone are the celestials, the daughters of
Aphrodite, the children of Isis and Hathor.

In his room Jim sat for awhile upon the side of his bed, trying to fathom
the unfathomable meaning of her expression. His brain was full of her—her
hair black as the Egyptian darkness, her eyes grey as the twilight,
and her flesh like the alabaster of the Mokattam Hills. There was such
modesty, such reserve in her bearing, and yet with these qualities there
went a kind of confidence, a self-assurance, which he could not define.
In her presence he became aware of the shortcomings of his own sex,
rather than of his mastery; yet at the same time he was conscious of an
overwhelming intensification of his manhood.

At last, a cigarette as his excuse, he stepped out on to the balcony, and
for some moments stood looking out to sea. When he took courage to turn
towards her window he found that though the light in the room was still
burning, the shutters were closed; and thus he remained, staring at the
green woodwork for what seemed an interminable time.

He was about to go back disconsolately to his room when the light was
extinguished, and the shutters were quietly pushed open. Who shall say
whether she knew that Jim was standing in silence upon the balcony, or
whether, being prepared for her bed, she now merely opened the windows
that the cool of the night might bring her refreshing sleep? Woman is
wise: she knows if the hour be meet.



Chapter IV: BEDOUIN LOVE


Jim awoke next morning with the feeling that he had come back to earth
from heaven. The events of the night before seemed to belong to a world
of enchantment, and had no relation to the keen, practical sunlight which
now struck into his room through the open windows, nor to the cool sea
breeze which waved the curtains to and fro, nor yet to the vivid blue sea
and the clean-cut rocks which came into sight as he sat up in bed.

“In the next room,” he mused to himself, “sleeps a woman who in the
darkness was to me the gateway of my dreams, but who in this bright
sunlight will be again only a capable, pretty creature and an amusing
companion. Night, after all, is woman’s kingdom, and in it she is
mistress of all the magic arts of enchantment, she becomes greater than
herself; but day belongs to man. How, then, shall I greet her?—for my
very soul seemed surrendered to her a few hours ago, yet now I find
myself still master of my destiny.”

Like an artist who steps back to view his picture, or like a poet who
measures up his dream, he allowed his mind to take stock of his emotions.
When her head had been thrown back upon the pillows, and the white column
of her throat could be seen in the dim light of the moon against the
black confusion of her hair, it had seemed to him that the marks of the
chisel of the Divine Artist were impressed upon the alabaster of her
flesh. It was as though, gazing down at her beauty, his eyes had been
opened and he had beheld the handicraft of Paradise.

And when, in his ardour, he had had the feeling of not knowing what next
to do nor what words to utter, her silencing loveliness had baffled him,
so it seemed, because her body was stamped with the seal of the Infinite
and fashioned in the likeness of God. True, she was but imperfect woman;
yet the art of the Lord of Arts had created her, and, by the magic of the
night, he had found her rich in the inimitable craftsmanship of heaven.

He had seen the glory of heaven in her eyes. He had heard the voice of
all the ages in her voice. In the touch of her lips there had been the
rapture of the spheres, and the gods of the firmament had seemed to ride
out upon the tide of her breath.

But was it she whom he had wanted when he held her pinioned in his arms?
He could not say. It seemed more reasonable to suppose that through her
he was looking towards the splendour which his soul sought. She was but
the necromancy by which he had carried earth up to heaven; she was the
magic by which he had brought heaven down to the earth. She had been the
door of his dreams, the portal of the sky; and through her he had made
his incursion into the kingdom beyond the stars.

“It was only an illusion,” he said, as he stood at the window,
invigorated by the breeze. “We are actually almost strangers. I don’t
know anything about her, and she knows little of me. It was the magic of
the night employed by scheming Nature for her one unchanging purpose; and
all that happened in the darkness will be forgotten in the sunlight. We
shall meet as friends.”

To some extent he was right, for when at mid-morning she came down to the
blazing beach and seated herself by his side in the shade of the rocks,
she greeted him quietly and serenely, with neither embarrassment nor
familiarity.

“Are you going to bathe this morning?” he asked her, and on her replying
in the affirmative, he told her that he thought he was well enough to do
so, too. At this she showed some concern, but he reminded her that the
water, at any rate near the shore, was warm to the touch and was hardly
likely to do him harm.

The little sandy bay, flanked by rocks which projected into the sea, was
the site of a number of bathing huts and tents used by the Europeans who
lived in the surrounding villas and bungalows. The breakers rolled in
upon this golden crescent, continuously driven forward by the prevalent
north-west wind; but at one side a barrier of low, shelving rocks formed
a small lagoon where the water was peaceful, and one might look down to
the bottom, ten or twelve feet below the surface, and see the brilliant
shells and seaweeds almost as clearly as though they were in the open
air. So strong was the summer sunlight that every object and every plant
at the bottom cast its shadow sharply upon the sparkling bed; and the
passage of little wandering fishes was marked by corresponding shadows
which moved over the fairyland below.

It was not long before Jim and Monimé were swimming side by side across
this small lagoon to the encircling wall of rocks, and soon they had
clambered on to them and had seated themselves where the surf rushed
towards them from the open azure sea on the one side, drenching them with
cool spray, and on the other side the low cliffs and rocks, surmounted by
the clustered palms, were reflected in the still water. Here they sunned
themselves and talked; and from time to time, when the heat became too
great, they dived down together with open eyes into the cool, brilliant
depths, gliding amongst the coloured sea-plants, grimacing at one another
as they scrambled for some conspicuous pebble or shell, and rising again
to the surface in a cloud of bubbles.

It was a joyous, exhilarating, agile occupation, far removed from the
enchantments of the darkness; and the glitter of sun and sea effectually
diminished the lure of the night’s witchery.

“You know,” said Jim, suddenly looking at his companion, as they lay
basking upon the spray-splashed rocks, “I can hardly believe last night
was anything but a dream.”

“Let us pretend that it was,” she answered. She pointed down into the
translucent water. “Life is like that,” she said. “We dive down into
those wonderful depths when the glare of actuality is too great, and we
see all the pretty shells down there; and then we have to come up to the
surface again, or we should drown.”

“I see,” he replied; “I was just a passing fancy of yours.”

She answered him gravely. “Women in that respect are not so different to
men. Judge me by yourself.”

“Oh, but there’s a world of difference,” he said, chilled by her words.
“I am simply a vagabond, a wandering Bedouin, here to-day and over the
hills and far away to-morrow.”

“I am also a wanderer,” she smiled. “We are both free beings who have
broken away from the beaten path. We both earn our living, and claim our
independence.”

“Yet the difference is this,” he reminded her, “that the world will shrug
its shoulders at my actions, but will condemn yours.”

She made an impatient gesture. “Oh, that threadbare truism!” she said.
“I have turned my back on the world, and I don’t care what it thinks.
I act according to my principles, and in this sort of thing the first
principle is very simple. If a woman is a thoughtful, responsible being,
earning her own living, and able to lead her own life without being in
the slightest degree dependent on the man of her choice, or on any other
living soul, she is entitled to respond to the call of nature at that
precious and rare moment when her heart tells her to do so. There should
be no such thing as a different law for the man and for the woman: there
should only be a different law for the self-supporting and the dependent.
The sin is when a woman is a parasite.”

With that she took a header into the water, and he watched her gliding
amidst the swaying tendrils of the sea-plants, like a sinuous mermaiden.

When she rose to the surface once more he dived in, and swam over to her,
his face emerging but a few inches from hers. “Do you love me?” he asked,
smiling amongst the bubbles.

“No, I hate you,” she replied, striking out towards the shore.

“Why?” he called after her.

“Because you haven’t the sense to leave well alone,” she said, and
thereat she dived once more, nor came to the surface again until she had
reached shallow water.

At luncheon she met him with an ambiguous smile upon her lips; but
finding that he was not eating his food with much appetite, she at once
became motherly and solicitous, refused to allow him to eat the salad,
offered to cut up the meat for him, and directed the waiter to bring some
toast in place of the over-fresh roll which he was about to break. At the
conclusion of the meal she ordered him to take a siesta in his room, and
in this he was glad enough to obey her, for he was certainly tired.

When he woke up, an hour or so later, and presently went out on to the
balcony, he saw her standing in her room, contemplating her painting
materials.

“May I come in?” he asked.

She nodded. “Have you had a good sleep?” she inquired. “Sit down and talk
to me. I have a feeling of loneliness this afternoon. I’m not in a mood
to paint; yet I suppose I must, or I shall run short of money.”

He went to her side and put his hands upon her shoulders, drawing her to
him; but she pushed him away from her, with averted face.

“I said ‘sit down,’” she repeated.

Jim was abashed. “You’re very difficult,” he told her. “I think that
under the circumstances I’d better go. I don’t know where I am with you.”

“You haven’t tried to find out,” she answered. “You’re quite capable of
understanding me: I should never have let you come into my life at all if
I had not been certain that you had it in you to understand.”

“Tact is not my strong point,” he said. “I’m just a man.”

“Nonsense!” she replied. “Don’t belittle yourself.”

He was puzzled. “Why, what’s wrong with men?”

“Their refusal to study women,” she answered.

She was not in a communicative mood, and would not be drawn into
argument. He was left, thus, with a disconcerting sense of frustration,
bordering on annoyance. It seemed evident to him that yesterday, by some
secret conjunction of the planets, so to speak, their destinies had met
together in one sentient hour of sympathy; but that now they had sprung
apart once more, and he knew not what stars in their courses would bring
back to him the ripe and mystic moment.

An appalling loneliness descended like a cloud upon him, and he was
conscious that she too, was experiencing the same feeling. It was
the lot, he supposed, of all persons who were born with the Bedouin
temperament; and he accepted it with resignation.

At length she conducted him—or did he lead her?—down to the verandah of
the hotel; and now she had her paints with her, and occupied herself in
making some colour-notes of the brilliant sea which stretched before
them, and of the golden rocks and vivid green palms. Jim, meanwhile, read
an English newspaper, some weeks old, which he had chanced upon in the
salon; but from time to time he sat back in his chair and watched her as
she worked, his admiration manifesting itself in his eyes.

“What are you staring at?” she asked him, presently.

“I was admiring the way you handle your paints,” he replied. “You’re a
real artist.”

“The fact that a woman paints,” she remarked, “does not mean that she
is an artist, any more than the fact that she talks means that she is
a thinker. To be an artist requires two things, firstly, that you have
something to express, and, only secondly, that you know technically how
to express it. It is the point of view, the angle of vision, that counts;
and in fact one can say that primarily one must _live_ an art.”

He nodded. He wondered whether the events of the previous night were
but the living of her art; and the thought engendered a kind of mild
bitterness which led him to give her measure for measure. “I know what
you mean so well,” he said, “because I happen to have the talent to put
things into nice metre and rhyme; but it is the subject matter that
really counts, and that’s where I feel my stuff is so flat. Sometimes I
am obliged to seek experience to help me.”

“You must let me see some of these poems,” she said, pursuing the theme
no further.

He shook his head. “They are only doggerel, like the one I sang last
night,” he laughed. “They are as shallow as my heart.”

She resumed her painting and he his reading; but his mind was not
following the movement of his eyes.

He was thinking how little he understood his companion. She was clearly a
woman of strong views, one who had taken her life into her own hands and
was facing the world with reliant courage. In fact, it might be said of
her that she was the sort of woman who would not be turned from what she
knew to be right by any qualms of guilty conscience. He smiled to himself
at the epigram, and again allowed his thoughts to speculate upon her
alluring personality.

He found at length, however, that the matter was beyond him; and
presently he turned to his reading once more.

It was while he was so engaged that suddenly he sat up in his chair,
gazing with amazement at the printed page before him.

“Great Scott!” he whispered, pronouncing the words slowly and
capaciously. There was a crazy look of astonishment upon his face.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, glancing at him, but unable to tell from
the whimsical expression of his mouth and eyes what manner of news had
taken his attention.

He looked at her as though he did not see her. Then he read once more the
words, which seemed to dance before him, and again stared through her
into the distance of his breathless thoughts.

“News that concerns you?” she asked.

He nodded, holding his hand to his forehead.

“Bad news?”

“Yes,” he answered, as though speaking in a dream. “Very bad ...
wonderful!”

She could not help smiling, and her intuition quickly jumped to the
truth. “Somebody has died and left you some money?” she suggested.

He uttered an almost hysterical laugh. “I’m free!” he cried. “Free! I
shall never have to go back to the mines.”

He sprang to his feet, folding the newspaper, and crushing it in his hand.

“Don’t go and faint again,” she said, quietly.

He laughed loudly, and a moment later was hastening into the hotel.
He snatched his hat from a peg in the hall, and hurried out through
the dusty little garden at the front of the building, and so into the
afternoon glare of the main road. Here he hailed a carriage, and, telling
the driver to take him to the Eastern Exchange Telegraph office, sat back
on the jolting seat, and directed his eyes once more to the Agony Column
of the newspaper. The incredible message read thus:

    JAMES CHAMPERNOWNE TUNDERING-WEST, heir to the late Stephen
    Tundering-West, of the Manor, Eversfield, Oxon, is requested to
    communicate with Messrs. Browne & Beadle, 135A, Lincoln’s Inn
    Fields, London.

His uncle was dead, then, and the two sons, his unknown cousins, must
have predeceased him or died with him! He had never for one moment
thought of himself as a possible heir to the little property; and heaven
knows how long it might have been before he would have had knowledge of
his good fortune had he not chanced upon this old newspaper.

Arrived at his destination, he despatched a cablegram to the solicitors,
notifying them that he would come to England by the first possible boat.
Then he drove on to Cook’s office in the heart of the city, which he
reached not long before it closed; and here, after some anxious delay,
he was told that a berth, just returned by its prospective occupant, was
available on a French liner sailing for Marseilles that night at eleven
o’clock. This he secured without hesitation, and so went galloping back
towards the hotel as the sun went down.

In the open road, between the city and the hotel another carriage passed
him in which Monimé was sitting, on her way to dine with some friends, of
whom she had spoken to him. He waved to her, and both she and he called
their drivers to a halt. Then, hastening across to her, he told her
excitedly that he was sailing for England that night.

“You see, I’ve inherited some property,” be explained. “I must go and
claim it at once.”

Her face was inscrutable, but there was no light of happiness in it. “I’m
sorry it has come to an end so soon,” she cried.

“What?” he cried, and it was evident that he was not listening to her.
“You’ve been wonderful to me. We mustn’t lose sight of each other. This
thing has got to go on and on for ever.”

He hardly knew what he was saying. An hour ago she had been almost the
main factor in his existence. Now she was but a fragment of a life he
was setting behind him. It was almost as though she were fading into a
memory before his very eyes. He was, as it were, looking through her at
an amazing picture which was unfolding itself beyond. The yellow walls of
the houses, the sea, the palms, the sunset, were dissolving; and in their
stead he was staring at the green fields of England, at the timbered
walls of an old manor-house last seen when he was a boy, at the grey
stone church amongst the ilex-trees and the moss-covered tombstones.

“I must go on and pack at once,” he said, standing first on one leg and
then on the other. “You’re sure to be back before I leave. You can get
away by ten, can’t you?”

He wrung her hand effusively, and hurried to his carriage, from which,
standing up, he waved his hat wildly to her as they drove off in opposite
directions.

But when the clock struck ten there was no sign of Monimé and a few
minutes later the hotel porter, who was to accompany him to the harbour,
began to urge him to delay his departure no longer. Being somewhat
flurried, he thought to himself that he would write her a farewell letter
from the steamer, and give it to the porter to carry back with him.

But by the time he had found his cabin and seen to his baggage, the siren
was blowing, and the porter in alarm was hurrying down the gangway.

“I’ll write or cable from Marseilles,” he said to himself. “I don’t
suppose she cares a rap about me: the whole thing was due to our romantic
surroundings. But still one would be a fool to lose sight of a real woman
like that.... I wish I knew her name.”



Chapter V: THE SQUIRE OF EVERSFIELD


The art of life is very largely the art of burying bones. That is the
science of mental economy. When a man is confronted with a problem which
he cannot solve; when, so to speak, Fate presents him with a bone which
he cannot crack, sometimes, without intent, he slinks away with it and,
like a dog, buries it, in the undefined hope that at a later date he may
unearth it and find it then more manageable.

Even so, during the sea voyage, Jim unconsciously buried the bewildering
thought of Monimé. He was a careless fellow, very reprehensible, having
no actual harm in him, yet bearing a record pock-marked, so to speak,
with the sins of omission. He was one of the world’s tramps by nature;
and now once more he was out upon the high road, and the lights of the
city wherein he had slept had faded behind him as he wandered onwards
into another sunrise. It is true that he wrote her a long and intense
letter upon the day after his departure, and that he posted this
upon his arrival at Marseilles; but his brain, by then full of other
things, conjured up no clear vision of her, and his heart sent forth no
impassioned message with the written word. He had been deeply stirred by
her, but also he had been baffled; and, as in the case of a dream, he
made no effort to retain the sweetness of the memory.

On the morning of his arrival he called at the office of the solicitors
who had inserted the advertisement, and was not a little startled to find
himself greeted with that kind of obsequiousness which he had supposed to
have vanished from Lincoln’s Inn fifty years ago.

The little pink-and-white man who was the senior partner, and whose name
was Beadle, rubbed his hands together as though he were washing them, and
actually walked backwards for some paces in front of his visitor, bowing
him into a shabby leather chair which stood beside the large, imposing
desk.

“I hope,” he crooned, when Jim had established his identity, “that we may
still have the duty, and pleasure, of serving you, sir, as we have served
your uncle and your grandfather.”

“I hope so,” replied Jim. “I suppose you know all the ins and outs of the
family affairs.”

Mr. Beadle smilingly directed the young man’s attention to a number of
black tin boxes stacked in the corner of the room. “The Tundering-West
documents for the last two hundred years,” he declared, blowing his
breath through his teeth, an action which served him for laughter.

Jim had a vision of legal formalities and lawyers’ rigmaroles—things
which he had always detested; and the passing thought contributed to the
growing dislike he felt for the harmless, but sycophantic, Mr. Beadle.

“Well, first of all,” he said, “tell me what my inheritance consists of,
and what sort of income I’ve got.”

Mr. Beadle explained that the little property comprised some two hundred
acres, most of which were rented; the score of houses and cottages
which constituted the tiny little village; the small but comfortable
manor-house; and twenty thousand pounds of invested capital. This was
better than Jim had expected, and his pleasure was manifest by the broad
smile upon his tanned face.

“You see, you will have quite a comfortable income in a small way,” the
solicitor told him. “I do not think that your duties will embarrass
you. You will find your tenants very respectful and deferential
country-people, who will give you little bother; and your obligations as
landlord will be very easily discharged.”

“They’re a bit behind the times, eh?” suggested Jim.

“Ah, my dear sir,” said Mr. Beadle, “I am thankful to say that there are
still some parts of the English countryside where a gentleman may live in
comfort, and where the people keep their place.”

Jim was astonished by the remark, for he had believed such sentiments to
be entombed in the novels of long ago. “Poor old England!” he murmured.
“We’re a comic race, aren’t we, Mr. Beetle?”

“‘Beadle,’” the little old man corrected him; and “Sorry!” said Jim.

They spoke later of the tragedies which had thus brought the inheritance
out of the direct line, and hereat came the conventional sighs from Mr.
Beadle, as forced as his laughter. Jim was told how his cousin, Mark,
had died in India of pneumonia, and how his uncle and the remaining son,
James, having gone to the Lakes that the old gentleman might recover
his equanimity, were both drowned in a sudden squall while sailing
at a considerable distance from the shore. The bodies were recovered
and brought to Eversfield for burial; and very solemnly the solicitor
produced a photograph of the memorial tablet which had been set up in the
church.

“Some day, I trust a very long time hence, your own mural tablet will
be set up there,” he said, after Jim had handed back the photograph in
silence. “‘Nihil enim semper floret; ætas succedit ætati,’ as the good
Cicero says.”

“Quite so,” said Jim.

“It has all been a terrible blow to me,” sighed Mr. Beadle. “The late Mr.
Tundering-West treated me quite as a personal friend.”

“Did he really?” Jim was going to be rude, but checked himself. He felt
an extraordinary hostility to this well-meaning but servile little
personage. “I shall go down there to-morrow,” he remarked, as he rose
to take his departure, “and I’ll probably have the house thoroughly
renovated before I go into it.”

“I don’t think you will find much that requires alteration,” Mr. Beadle
assured him, his hand raised in a gesture of deprecation. “Hasty changes
are always undesirable; and, when you have grown into the spirit of the
place I think you will find that you have a duty to the past.” He checked
himself, and bowed. “I trust you will not mind an old man giving you
that advice,” he murmured, as they shook hands. He bowed so low that it
appeared to be a complete physical collapse.

On the following day Jim motored to Eversfield in a hired open car. He
could with greater ease have gone by train to Oxford, and could have
driven over in a fly; but he wanted to have the pleasure of spending some
of his new money, and, moreover, a fifty-mile drive through the fair
lands of Berkshire and Oxfordshire in the radiance of a summer’s day
appealed to his imagination. Nor was he disappointed. He acknowledged the
beauties of the land of his birth with whole-hearted pleasure; and his
eyes, weary with long gazing upon leaden skies and burning sands, were
soothed in a manner beyond scope of words by the green fields, the soft
foliage of the trees, and grey skies of a hot, hazy morning. It is true
that the roads were extremely dusty, and that his face and clothes were
soon thickly powdered; but, as the chauffeur had provided him with a pair
of motoring glasses, he was not troubled in this respect.

The little hamlet of Eversfield lay seemingly asleep in its hollow amidst
the richly timbered hills, as, at midday, he drove up to the grey stone
gates of his future home. Here was the narrow village green just as he
had last seen it when he was a boy: on one side of the lane which opened
on to it were these imposing gates; on the other side were the little
church and moss-covered gravestones leaning at all angles, as though the
dead were whispering together deferentially at the entrance of the manor.
Upon the green were the old stocks, and the stump and worn steps of the
ancient cross; and behind them stood the thatched cottages backed by the
stately elms.

“I suppose in years to come,” he thought, “I shall be walking through
these gates to the church on Sundays, followed by the lady of my choice
and half-a-dozen children; and the villagers will nudge one another and
say ‘Here comes Squire and all his little squirrels.’ ... Good Lord!”

The exclamation was due to the sudden feeling that he had walked into a
trap, that he had been caught by immemorial society, and would soon be
forced to conform to its ways; and, as the car passed in at the gates of
the manor, he had, for a moment, a desire to jump out and run for his
life.

A short, straight drive, flanked by clipped box-trees, led to the main
door of the timbered Tudor house; and here the new owner, dusty, and
somewhat untidily dressed, was received by the gardener and his buxom
wife, who had both grown grey in his uncle’s service. The man held his
cap in his hand, and touched his wrinkled forehead with his finger
a number of times, painfully anxious to find favour; while his wife
curtseyed to him at least thrice.

“Are you the gardener?—what is your name?” Jim asked briskly, feeling
almost as awkward as the man he addressed, but determined to go through
the ordeal with honour.

“Peter, sir,” said the gardener. “Peter Longarm, sir. I rec’lect you,
sir, when you was no more’n so ’igh, I do.”

“Why, of course,” Jim replied. “I remember you now. You’re the fellow who
told my uncle when I broke the glass of the forcing frame.”

The old man looked sheepish. “I ’ad to do my dooty, sir,” he said. “I ask
your pardon.”

“Duty,” Jim thought to himself. “I’m beginning to know that word. I
wonder what it really means.” He turned to the woman. “Now, please go and
open the doors of all the rooms, and then leave me to walk through the
house by myself.” He wanted to be alone to realize his new possession and
to dream his dream of future ease. Mrs. Longarm eyed him nervously for a
moment before obeying his instructions; she told her husband afterwards,
with tears in her eyes, that she felt as though she were surrendering the
house to a cut-throat foreigner.

As he wandered, presently, from room to room he was at first overpowered
by the feeling that he was intruding upon the privacy of some sort of
family life which he did not understand. His uncle’s wife had been
dead for three or four years, but there were still many traces of her
influence: the drawing-room, for example, was furnished in a style which
called to his mind faded pictures of feminine tea-parties. Here was the
old piano upon which the good lady must have tinkled the songs of which
the music still lay in the cabinet near by—songs such as _My Mother Bids
Me Bind My Hair_, and _Ah, Welladay my Poor Heart_. And here was the
little sewing-table where had doubtless rested the silks and needles
for her embroidery. Perhaps it was she who had chosen the gilt-framed
engravings upon the walls—the depressed picture of “Hagar and Ishmael in
the Wilderness;” a youthful portrait of Alexandra, Princess of Wales;
“Jacob weeping over Joseph’s coat;” the sprightly “Hawking Party,” and
so forth.

Looking around, he experienced a sensation of mingled mirth and awe, and
he hoped that the ghost of his aunt would not haunt him when he laid
sacrilegious and violent hands upon these things, as at first he intended
to do. The chintzes appeared to be of more recent date; but these, too,
would have to go, for, as a pattern, he detested sprays of red roses tied
with blue ribbons.

The dining-room, hall and staircase, being panelled and hung with family
portraits, were impressive in their conveyance of a sense of many
generations; and the hereditary library, if sombre, was interesting.
Jim was very fond of old books, and he stood there for some time taking
the calf-bound volumes from the shelves, and turning over the ancient
pages. But, the morning-room, with its red-covered chairs, its mahogany
sideboard, and its sham Chinese vases, was distressing. Yet here, as in
the drawing-room, there was a chaste and awful solemnity, from which he
shrank, as a conscientious Don Juan might shrink at a lady’s _prie-Dieu_.

The larger bedrooms upstairs, with their mahogany wardrobes and heavy
chests of drawers full of clothes, and cupboards full of boots and hats,
were startling in their association with their late tenants. On a table
beside his uncle’s bed there lay a recent novel, which Jim himself had
also just read: it constituted a gruesome link between the living and
the dead. He glanced about him and through the window, down the drive,
almost expecting to see the apparitions of his relatives stalking up from
the family vault in the churchyard to see what he was about. His uncle
would probably think him a dreadful scallawag, for the old gentleman had
been an accredited pillar of Church and State, with, so the cupboards
testified, a mania for collecting the top hats he had worn on Sundays or
when in town. He had been a model of propriety, and the monumental stone,
the photograph of which he had seen at the solicitors, stated that he had
“nobly upheld the traditions of his race.”

Jim felt depressed, and presently went out into the garden which was
ablaze with flowers; and here, after a late meal of sandwiches, eaten
upon an ornamental stone bench, his spirits revived, for the manor and
its setting formed a very beautiful picture. If only he could get rid of
all those hats and clothes and old photographs!

A sudden idea occurred to him: he would go and find the padre, and tell
him to take these things for the poor of the parish. They must be got rid
of at once, even though every man in the village be obliged to wear a top
hat. They must all be gone before he came here again, or he would never
bring himself to live in the house at all! He hurried down the drive,
asked Peter Longarm at the lodge to point out the vicarage to him, and
thereafter hastened on his errand.

Near the church, however, and at a point where a gap in the trees
revealed a distant view of the dreaming, huddled spires of Oxford,
flanked by the lonely tower of Magdalen College, he met with a
white-bearded clergyman whom he presumed to be the vicar, and at once
accosted him.

“Excuse me,” he said, ingratiatingly, barring his way. “Would you care
to have some old hats?—I mean of course, would your flock like to wear
them?—Top hats, you know, and old boots, too, if you want them.”

The elderly gentleman was annoyed, and, with a curt “No thank you, not
to-day,” proceeded on his way. Jim, however, called after him, coaxingly:
“They are quite good hats really; they only want brushing.”

At this the man of God stopped and turned, looking at Jim’s somewhat
dusty figure with wonderment. “Do I understand that you are selling old
hats?” he asked, endeavouring to speak politely.

Jim rushed feverishly into explanation. “No, I want to get rid of
them,” he gabbled; “I want to get rid of all sorts of things—hats,
coats, trousers, dressing-gowns, shirts, vests, boots, slippers, old
photographs, umbrellas ...” He paused for breath, inwardly laughing.

Very slowly and deliberately the clergyman adjusted his eyeglasses low
down upon his nose, and stared at Jim. “Young man,” he said, “is this a
jest at my expense?”

“Good Lord, no!” Jim answered. “I’m in deadly earnest. I can’t possibly
live in the house with all these things. You _will_ help me, won’t you?
How would it be if you came over to-morrow and cleared them all out, and
then had a meeting or something, and gave them as prizes to the regular
church-goers?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” the clergyman responded,
gently but firmly pushing him aside. “Good-day!”

Jim stared at him as he walked. “You _are_ the vicar, aren’t you?” he
asked.

“No, I’m not,” the other replied somewhat sharply, over his shoulder;
“I’m the President of Magdalen.”

Jim uttered an exclamation of impatience, and hastened on to the Vicarage.

The servant who appeared in response to his knock, was about to ask him
his name, when the vicar, an old man with a clean-shaven, kindly face,
and grey hair, happened to cross the hall.

“Yes, what is it, what is it?” he asked, coming to the door, while the
maid retired.

“Are you the vicar?” Jim asked, beginning more cautiously.

“I am,” the other responded.

“You really are? Well I want to ask you about some old clothes. I....”

The vicar held up his hand. “No, I have none to sell you,” he said
smiling sadly. “I wear mine out.”

Jim laughed aloud. “First I’m thought to be selling them, and now you
think I’m buying them,” he exclaimed. “We certainly are a nation of
shop-keepers.”

The vicar was puzzled. “I don’t understand. What is it you want?”

“I have a lot of hats and old clothes I want to get rid of. I thought you
might like them.”

The clergyman bowed stiffly. “It is very kind of you,” he said frigidly.
“My stipend, I admit, is small, but I am not yet reduced to the
necessity of wearing a stranger’s cast-off clothing.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean that,” Jim hastily explained. “And they’re not mine:
they belonged to my late relatives. I am just coming to live at the
manor, and I thought the poor of the parish would....”

The vicar interrupted him. “I beg your pardon. Are you ...?” He
hesitated, incredulous.

“Yes, I’m the new Tundering-West,” Jim told him.

The other held out his hands. “Well, well!” he cried. “And I thought you
were....” He hesitated.

“The old clothes man,” laughed Jim.

“Oh, very droll!” the vicar smiled, shaking him warmly by the hand. “How
ridiculous of me! Do come in, my dear sir!”

Jim followed him into the drawing-room, and here he found a little
old lady, who was introduced to him as Miss Proudfoote, and a florid,
middle-aged man with a waxed moustache, who looked like a sergeant-major,
and proved to be Dr. Spooner, the local medical man. They had evidently
been lunching at the Vicarage, and were now drinking the post-prandial
concoction which the English believe to be coffee. They both greeted him
with a sort of deference, which however, did not conceal their curiosity.

During the next ten minutes Jim heard a great deal of his “poor dear
uncle” and his unfortunate cousins. The tragedy of their deaths, it
seemed, had cast the profoundest gloom over the village; but it was a
case of “the King is dead; long live the King!” and all three of his new
acquaintances appeared to be anxious to pay him every respect.

Dr. Spooner asked him from what part of England he had just come, and the
news that he had been living abroad and had not visited the land of his
birth for many years caused a sensation. The thought occurred to him that
he ought not to mention Egypt, or any other land which had recently known
him as Jim Easton; for any such revelations might bring discredit upon
him, and he wished to start his life at Eversfield without any handicap.
He therefore spoke only of California, referring to it casually as a
country where he had resided.

Miss Proudfoote turned to the vicar. “Is it not extraordinary,” she said,
“how many of our young men shoulder what Mr. Kipling calls ‘the white
man’s burden’ and go forth to live amongst the heathen?” Her geography
was evidently at fault, but out of consideration for her years and her
sex, no correction was forthcoming. “I suppose,” she proceeded, “you met
with our missionaries out there? It is wonderful what a great work the
Church Missionary Society is doing all over the world.”

The Doctor here had the hardihood to interpose. “Oh, but California is a
part of the United States of America ...” he ventured.

“How foolish of me!—of course,” smiled the old lady. “The Americans are
quite an educated people. I met an American traveller once in Oxford: a
pleasant spoken young man he seemed, so far as I could understand what he
said.”

“Yes,” remarked the vicar, “America can no longer be called ‘the common
sewer of England,’ as it was when I was a boy.”

Jim stared from one to the other in amazement. “But America is the
largest and most progressive part of the Anglo-Saxon race,” he protested.
“They are already ahead of us in many ways.”

Miss Proudfoote was shocked, and she showed it. “It is evident that you
do not know England,” she replied, coldly.

“I mean,” he emphasized, “it always seems to me a fine thought that
England can never die, because she will live again over there; and then
she’ll have another lease of life in Australia; and so on. This England
here may die, but the English will go on for ever and ever, it seems to
me. And wherever their home may be,” he added, laughing, “they’ll always
think it ‘God’s own country,’ and think themselves the chosen people.”

Miss Proudfoote looked anxiously at him, hoping that there was some good
in him. “I trust,” she said, “that it is now your intention to settle
down?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I fancy my wanderings are over.”

“Heaven has placed you in a very responsible position,” she said, gazing
earnestly at him. “I am sure our best wishes will be with you in your
duties.”

“Yes, indeed,” sighed the vicar, whose name, as Jim had just ascertained,
was Glenning. “Are you a married man, may I ask?”

“Oh no,” Jim replied.

Miss Proudfoote patted his arm. “We shall have to find you a wife,” she
smiled.

Jim was aghast, and hastily changed the subject. “Now about the old
clothes,” he began.

Mr. Glenning coloured, slightly. “What an absurd error for me to have
made,” he said. “Now, tell me, what is it you wish me to do?”

“I’m going back to London to-day,” Jim explained, “and I want you, while
I am away, to go through all my uncle’s things, and give away to the poor
everything you think I shall not want. Just use your own judgment.”

“It will be a melancholy duty,” he replied.

“I’m sure it will,” the new Squire answered, “but, I tell you frankly,
anything useless I find here when I return I shall burn.”

The vicar raised his hands; the doctor sniffed; and Miss Proudfoote
looked at the stranger indignantly.

“That is rather hasty, is it not?” she asked, tremulously.

Jim felt awkward. He had made a bad impression, and he knew it. “You
see,” he tried to explain, “my uncle died so suddenly and the place is
littered with his things. All I want to keep is the furniture, and the
silver, and the books, and that sort of thing, but I will see to that
myself.”

Miss Proudfoote turned away suddenly and Jim, to his horror, saw her
raise a handkerchief to her eyes. He could have kicked himself. He wished
the floor would open and engulf him. He looked in despair at the two men.

“You know I haven’t seen my uncle since I was a boy,” he stammered. “I am
a complete stranger.”

“He was our very dear friend,” said Mr. Glenning.



Chapter VI: SETTLING DOWN


While the congregation in the little church at Eversfield was singing
the last hymn of the morning service the October sun passed from
behind an extensive bank of cloud, and its rays shot down through the
plain glass window upon the figure of a young woman, whose sudden and
surprising illumination instantly attracted many pairs of eyes to her.
She looked, and knew it, like a little angel as she stood in this shaft
of brilliance, hymn-book in hand, singing the well-known words in a voice
which enhanced their ancient sweetness; and the vicar, from his place at
the side of the small chancel, fixed his gaze upon her with an expression
of such saintly beatitude upon his face as to be almost idiotic.

Her name was Dorothy Darling; but her mother, who here stood beside her
in the shadow under the wall, called her Dolly, and rightly congratulated
herself upon having chosen for her only baby, twenty-three years ago, a
name of which the diminutive was so appropriate to the now grown woman.

In the sunshine the girl’s soft, fair hair looked like a puff of gold,
and her skin like coral; and the play of light and shade accentuated
the pretty lines of her figure, so that they were by no means lost
under the folds of her smart little frock. Her large, soft eyes were as
innocent as they were blue, and never a glance betrayed the fact that
she was singing for the direct benefit of the new Squire, whose head and
shoulders appeared above the carved wooden walls of the sort of loose-box
which was his family pew.

The miniature church, though dating from the twelfth century, still
retained the features by which it had been transformed and modernized in
the obsequious days of Walpole and the first of the Georges. The pews for
the “gentry” were boxed in, and each was fitted with its door; but the
walls of Jim’s pew were higher than the others and its area bigger. At
the back of the church there were the open seats for the villagers and
persons of vulgar birth; but the woodwork here was not carved, save with
the occasional initials of lads long since passed out of memory.

At the sides of the chancel were set the mural tablets which recorded
the genealogical lustres of dead Tundering-Wests, back to the day when
a certain Captain of Horse had obtained a grant of the manor from the
Commonwealth, in lieu of his devastated estate in Devon, and, with
admirable tact, had married the daughter of the exiled Royalist owner.
Around the whitewashed walls of the small nave large wooden boards were
hung, upon which were painted the arms and quarterings of the successive
Squires and their spouses; and above the chancel arch the royal Georgian
escutcheon was displayed in still vivid colours.

The church, indeed, was a tiny monument to all that glory of caste
which its Divine Founder abhorred, and which the aforesaid Roundhead,
misapprehending the unalterable character of his fellow-countrymen, had
apparently fought in his own day to suppress.

When the hymn was finished, the blessing spoken, and Mr. Glenning gone
into the vestry behind the organ, this traditional distinction between
the classes was emphasized by the behaviour of the little congregation.
Nobody of the meaner sort moved towards the sunlit doorway until Jim,
looking extraordinarily embarrassed, had marched down the aisle and had
passed out into the autumnal scurry of falling leaves, followed closely
by Mrs. and Miss Darling, Mr. Merrivall of Rose Cottage, Dr. and Mrs.
Spooner, and old Miss Proudfoote of the Grange; and, when these were
gone, way had still to be made for young Farmer Hopkins and his wife,
Farmer Cartwright and his idiot son, and the other families of local
standing.

Outside, in the keen October air, Jim paused under the ancient ilex-tree,
and turned to bid good-morning to the Darlings. Dolly had interested and
attracted him during these three months since he took up his residence at
the manor; but he had been so much occupied in settling himself into his
new home that he had not given her all the attention he felt was her due,
now that the shaft of sunlight in the church had revealed her to him in
the palpable charm of her maidenhood.

He greeted her, therefore, with cheery ardour, as though she were a new
discovery, and walked beside her and her mother down the path which wound
between the moss-covered gravestones, and out into the lane under the
rustling elms. A great change had come over him since he had returned
to England: he had become in some ways more normal, and the quiet,
simple life of an English village had, as it were, taken much of the
exotic colour out of his thoughts. In the romantic East he had looked
for romance, but here in the domestic West his mind had turned towards
domesticity. His poetic imagination was temporarily blunted; and whereas
in Alexandria he had responded eagerly to the enchantments of hour and
place, in Eversfield he was readily satisfied with a more rational aspect
of life.

He turned to the mother. “What a little picture your daughter looked,
singing that hymn in the sunlight,” he remarked, with enthusiasm.

Mrs. Darling sighed. Twenty years ago she, too, had been a little
picture; but, so she thought to herself, she had had more character in
her face than Dolly, and less softness. Outwardly her little girl took
after that scamp of a father of hers, whose innocent blue eyes and boyish
face had won him more frequent successes than his continence could handle.

“Yes,” she replied, evasively, “that is Dolly’s favourite hymn.... She
has a nice little voice.”

“Delightful!” said Jim. “I didn’t know hymns could sound so beautiful!”

Dolly looked at him as our great-grandmothers must have looked when they
said, “Fie!”

“Aren’t you a regular church-goer?” she asked, gazing up at him with
childlike eyes.

“Can’t say I am,” he answered, with a quick laugh. “I’m new to all this,
you know. I’ve knocked about all over the world since I left school.
But, I say!—that family pew, and the respectful villagers!—they give me
the hump!”

“Oh, I think it is charming, perfectly charming,” said Mrs. Darling.

“Well,” he replied, “I expect I’ll get used to it. I suppose this sort of
life grows on one: in some ways I’m beginning to have a sort of settled
feeling already.”

They were walking away from the gates of the Manor, which rose opposite
the ivy-covered church, and were approaching the picturesque little
cottage where the Darlings lived. Jim paused, and as he did so Dolly
experienced a sudden sense of disappointment. She had hoped that he
would accompany them to their door, and she had intended then to entice
him through it, and to show him over their pretty rooms and round the
flower-garden and the orchard. Until now they had only occasionally met,
and their exchanges of conversational trivialities had been carried on
in the lane, or at the door of the church, or outside the cottage which
served as the post-office. He seemed to be a difficult man to take
hold of; and during the last few weeks, since her mind had begun to be
so disastrously full of the thought of him, she had felt ridiculously
frustrated in her attempts to develop their friendship. Frustration, of
course, is woman’s destiny, which meets her at every turn; but in youth
it sometimes serves as her incentive.

“Won’t you come in and see our little home?” she asked. “It’s rather a
treasure.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t,” he replied. “I promised to go
round my place with the gardener this morning. He’ll be waiting for me
now. But, I say, what about dinner to-night? Won’t you both dine with
me?” He was feeling reckless.

Dolly’s heart leapt, and, in a flash, she had selected the dress she
would put on, and had considered whether she should wear the little
diamond pendant or the sham pearls.

“We shall be delighted,” murmured Mrs. Darling. “Eh, Dolly?”

The girl looked doubtful. “I don’t know that we ought to to-night,” she
answered. “We had half promised to drive over to a sort of sacred concert
affair in Oxford.”

“Oh, don’t disappoint me,” said Jim. “I’ve got the house almost shipshape
now; I’d like you to see it.”

Dolly did not require really to be pressed; and soon the young man was
striding homewards down the lane, wondering why it had taken him three
months to realize that this girl was perfectly adorable; while she, on
her part, was pinching Mrs. Darling’s arm and saying: “Oh, mother dear,
doesn’t he look delightfully _wicked_!”

“Yes, he seems a nice, sardonic fellow,” her mother remarked grimly, as
they entered their house. “Why did you begin by saying we were engaged
to-night? It’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

Dolly smiled. “Oh, I made that up, because I thought you were too prompt
in accepting. He’ll want us all the more if we are stand-offish. Men are
like that.”

Mrs. Darling sniffed. She was a lazy, plump, and rather languid little
woman; and sometimes she grew impatient at her daughter’s ingenious
method of dealing with these sorts of situations. She herself had grown
more direct in her Yea and Nay: perhaps at the age of forty-five she was
a little tired of dissimulation. The world had treated her scurvily;
and, having a settled grievance, she was inclined now to take whatever
pleasant things were to be had for the asking, without any subtle
manœuvering for position.

Her husband had left her when Dolly was five years old, and, so far as
she knew, he was now dead. For several years she had bravely maintained
herself in a tiny Kensington flat by writing social and theatrical
articles for pretentious papers. She had been a purveyor of gossip, a
tattle-monger, a dealer in bibble-babble; and she had carried on her
trade with an increasing inclination to yawn over it, and a growing
consciousness of her daughter’s contempt, until the editors who had
supported her became aware that her heart was not in her work, and five
years ago gave her her _congé_.

Then, with a temporary display of energy, she had followed Dolly’s
cultured advice, and had established a little business off Sloane Square,
which she called “The Purple Shop.” Here she sold purple cushions and
lamp-shades, poppy-heads dipped in purple paint, poetry-books in purple
covers, sketches by Bakst in purple frames, lengths of purple damask, and
so forth. But purple went out of fashion, and her once very considerable
profits sank to the vanishing point. She introduced other colours, and
softer shades of mauve and lilac. She sold a doll which had mauve hair
and naughty black eyes; she took in a stock of bottled new potatoes
tinged with a harmless purple liquid, and presented them to the jaded
world of fashion as _Pommes de terre pourpres de Tyr_; she even sold
brilliant bath-robes for bored bachelors, with coloured soap to match.

A financial crash followed, and, after a few months spent in dodging
her creditors, she heard of this little cottage at Eversfield, and fled
to it with her daughter, leaving no address. She was in receipt of a
small annual allowance from the estate of a deceased brother, and this
she supplemented by writing the monthly fashion article in one of the
journals devoted to the world, the flesh and the devil. She wrote under
the nom-de-plume of “Countess X”; and her material was obtained by a
monthly visit to London and a tour of the leading modistes.

For eighteen months now she had lain low in this nook of the Midlands
where Time stood still, and gradually she had ceased to dread the visit
of the postman, and had begun to take a languid interest in the cottage.
The colour purple no longer set her fat knees knocking together, and
lately she had been able even to look up some of her old friends in
London and to greet them with the sad, brave smile of a wronged woman.

To Dolly, however, the enforced seclusion had been a sore trial, and
there were times when her pretty eyes were red with weeping. She had been
utterly bored by the purposeless existence she was called upon to lead;
but now the arrival of the new Squire at the manor, which had hardly
seen its previous owner during the last year of his life, had aroused
her from her sorrows and had set her heart in a flutter. She liked his
strange, swarthy face and his moody eyes, and thought he looked artistic
and even intellectual; and she liked his obvious embarrassment at the
deference paid to him in this little kingdom which he had inherited.

She spent the afternoon, therefore, in a condition of pleasurable
excitement, stitching at the dress she was going to wear and making
certain alterations to the shape of the neck.

While she plied her needle, Mrs. Darling sat at the low window
overlooking the orchard, and scribbled her monthly article upon a
writing-pad resting on her knee. “Here is a charming little conceit I
chanced upon in Bond Street t’other day,” she wrote. “It is really a
tub-time frock; but its success in the drawing-room is likely to be
immediate. Organdy ruchings of moonlight blue, and a _soupçon_ of jet
cabochons on the corsage. It is named ‘Hopes in turmoil.’” And again,
“I noticed, too, a crisp little _trotteur_ frock, with a nipped-in
waist-line hesitating behind a _moyenage_ girdle of beige velours
delaine. They have called it ‘Cupid’s Teeth.’ Oh, very snappy, I assure
you, my dears!”

She smiled lazily as she wrote, but once she sighed so heavily that her
daughter asked her if anything were amiss.

“No,” she replied. “I was only just wondering whether anybody in their
senses could understand the nonsense I am writing. The editor’s orders
are to make the thing sound French: I should lose my job if I wrote in
plain English.”

“Oh dear,” sighed Dolly, “how tedious all that sort of thing seems! I
wonder that you can bother with it.”

“I’ve got to,” her mother answered, with irritation. “I shan’t be able to
give it up till you are married and off my hands.”

“Yes, so you are always telling me,” said Dolly; and therewith their
silence was renewed.

Night had fallen when they set out for the manor, and the lane was
intensely dark. They were guided, however, by the light in the window
of the lodge at the gates; and from here to their destination they were
accompanied by the gardener, who carried a lantern which flung their
shadows, like great black monsters, across the high box-hedges flanking
the main approach. From the outside the timbered house looked ghostly and
forbidding; and by contrast, the front hall which they entered seemed
wonderfully well-lit, though only lamps and candles and the flames of the
log-fire served for illumination.

Here Jim came to them as they were removing their wraps, and Dolly could
see by the expression on his face that her dress had his hearty approval.
He led them into the library, where his late uncle’s books, arranged upon
the high shelves, and the rather heavy furniture, presented a picture
of solid dignity; and presently they were ushered into the panelled
dining-room, where they sat down at a warmly lit table, under the silent
scrutiny of a gallery of dead Tundering-Wests and that of a gaping
village housemaid who appeared to be more or less moribund.

The food provided by Jim’s thoroughly incompetent cook was not a
success, and when some rather tough mutton chops had followed a dish of
under-boiled cod, which had been preceded by a huge silver tureen of
lukewarm soup, their host felt that some words of apology were due to his
guests.

“You must try to bear with the menu,” he laughed. “This is my cook’s
first situation. She was recommended to me by Mr. Glenning, the vicar, as
a girl who was willing to learn; but it only occurred to me afterwards
that that was not much good when there was nobody to teach her.”

“You must let me give her a few lessons,” said Dolly, at which her mother
stared in astonishment, knowing that her daughter understood about as
much of cooking as a dumb-waiter.

Yet the girl was not conscious of deception, nor was she aware that she
was acting a part, and acting it mainly for her own edification. She
pictured herself just now as a splendid little housewife, and she would
have been gravely insulted if her mother had told her that her dream
was devoid of reality. In her mind she saw herself as the lady of the
manor, quietly, unobtrusively, yet all-wisely, directing its affairs; a
sweet smiling Bunty pulling the strings; a little ray of sunshine in the
great, grey old house; a source of comfort to her lord which he would not
appreciate until she should go away to stay with her mother, whereon he
would write to her telling her that since her departure everything had
gone wrong.

Throughout her life she had played such parts to herself, her rôles
varying according to circumstances. At the Purple Shop she had been the
dreamy little artist, destined for higher things, but forced by cruel
poverty to act as assistant saleswoman to a soulless mother, and to smile
bravely at the world, though her artist’s heart was breaking. When first
she had come to Eversfield and had fallen under the spell of the green
woods, she had had a severe bout of “Merrie England.” She had tripped
through the fields in a sun-bonnet, and had begged her mother to buy
a harpsichord. She had joined a society of ladies in Oxford who were
attempting to revive folk-dancing, and she had footed it nimbly on the
sward while the curate played “Hey-diddle-diddle” to them on his flute.

Later she had gone through the nymph-and-fairy phase, and, in the depth
of the woods, had let her hair down so that it looked in the sunlight,
she supposed, like woven gold. She had danced her way barefooted from
tree to tree, sipping the dew from the dog-roses, and singing snatches of
strange, wild songs about the “little people,” and talking to the birds;
and when Farmer Cartwright had caught her at it, she had looked at him,
she believed, like a startled fawn.

But now, since the new Squire, with his background of rich lands and
ancient tenure, had come into her life, she had played the little
helpmate, the goodwife in her dairy, the mistress in her kitchen with
whole-hearted enthusiasm. She thought of beginning to collect a book of
Simples, in which there would be much mention of Marjoram, Rosemary, Rue
and Thyme; soveraign Balsames for Woundes, and Cordiall Tinctures for
ye Collicke; receipts for the making of Quince-Wine, or Syllabubs of
Apricocks; and so forth. Phrases such as “The little mistress of the big
house,” “My lady in her pleasaunce,” or “—in her herbal garden,” had been
drifting through her head for some time past; and hence her offer to set
Jim’s cuisine to rights fell naturally from her lips.

Nor was this the only show of interest she displayed in his domestic
affairs. After the meal was finished and they were sitting around the
fire in the library, she asked Jim to show her the drawing-room, which
was not yet in use; and when he was about to lead her to it she made
peremptory signs to her mother to refrain from accompanying them.

As she tiptoed down the passage and across the hall at Jim’s side,
she laid her hand upon his proffered arm, and he was surprised at the
lightness of the touch of her fingers. He did not, perhaps, compare it
actually to thistledown, which, at the moment, was the description her
own mind was fondly giving it; but her painstaking effort to defeat the
Newtonian law resulted, as she desired, in an increased consciousness on
his part that she was a very fairy-like creature.

The drawing-room was in darkness, and as they entered it she uttered a
little squeak of nervousness which went, as it was intended, straight to
his manly heart. He put his disengaged hand on her fingers and felt their
response: they seemed to be seeking his protection, and his senses were
thrilled at the contact. He could have kissed her as she stood.

“Wait a minute,” he said, “I’ll light the candles.”

“No, don’t,” she answered. “It looks so ghostly and wonderful.”

She crept forward into the room, into which only the reflected light
from the hall penetrated, and presently she came to a stand upon the
hearth-rug. He followed her, and stood close at her side; one might have
harkened to both their hearts beating. Then, boldly, he put his arm in
hers and took hold of her hand. It was trembling.

“Why,” he said, in surprise, “you’re shaking with fright.”

“No, it isn’t fright,” she stammered....

The voice of worldly wisdom whispered to him: “Look out!—this is getting
precious close to the danger zone”; and, with a saner impulse, he removed
his hand from hers, struck a match, and lit the candle.

“Oh, now you’ve spoilt it!” she exclaimed, not without irritation, and
then added quickly: “The ghosts have vanished.”

He held the candle up, and told her to look round the room; but as she
did so his own eyes were fixed upon her averted face, and had she turned
she would have realized at once that her triumph was nigh.



Chapter VII: THE GAME OF SURVIVAL


Upon the following afternoon the vicar came to call at the manor. Jim
had handed over to him as the oldest friend of the late Squire all his
uncle’s letters, diaries, and other papers, and had asked him to look
through them; and, the task being accomplished, he was now bringing them
back, carefully docketed and tied up in a large parcel.

As he entered the house there came to his venerable ears the sounds of
singing and the twanging of strings.

“Dear me, what is that?” he asked the maid, pausing in the hall.

“Oh, it’s only the master a-playing of ’is banjo,” the girl explained,
smiling at the vicar, who had been her friend since her earliest
childhood. “’E often gets took like that, sir. Cook says it’s ’is furrin
blood.”

“But he has no foreign blood,” Mr. Glenning told her.

“’E looks a furrin gentleman,” she replied, “and ’is ways....” She
paused, remembering her manners.

The vicar was shown into the drawing-room, and here he found the Squire
seated upon the arm of the sofa, his guitar across his knees.

“Hullo, padre!” said Jim. “Excuse the music.” He was somewhat abashed
at thus being taken unawares, for he had little idea that his singing
was anything but an infernal noise, intended by Nature to be a vent to
the feelings. And these feelings, just now, were of a somewhat violent
character, for, though he was not yet aware of his plight, he was in love.

In the early part of the afternoon he had gone for a wandering walk in
the woods adjoining the manor, in order to escape a sense of depression
which had descended upon him. “It must be this old house,” he had said
to himself, “with its weight of years. It feels like a trap in which
I’ve been caught, a trap laid by the forefathers to catch the children
and teach them their manners.” And therewith he had rushed out into the
sunshine.

Mr. Glenning smiled indulgently. “I shall have to make use of your voice
in church,” he said.

“Oh, no, you don’t!” Jim laughed, pretending to edge away. “Your choir is
bad enough as it is.”

The vicar was hurt, and Jim hastened to obliterate his thoughtless
words by remarking that he had, not long since, come in from a tour of
exploration in the woods, and had found them very pleasant.

“Yes,” his visitor replied, “they have grown up nicely. In the Civil
War all the trees were felled by Cromwell’s men during the siege of
Oxford; but one of your ancestors replanted the devastated area after the
Restoration, and the place now looks, I dare say, just as it did before
that unfortunate quarrel.”

The thought did not please Jim. Even the woods, then, which that
afternoon seemed to him to be a place of escape from the pall of history,
were but a part of the chain of ancient circumstances which bound the
whole estate. Even in their depths he would not be out of hearing of
the voice of his forefathers, which told him that they had sowed for
posterity and that he must do likewise.

He dismissed the irksome reflection by asking the vicar the nature of the
parcel which he had deposited on the table.

Mr. Glenning explained that it contained his uncle’s letters, and
therewith he unfastened the string, ceremoniously, and revealed a bundle
of small packets. “I have been through all these, except this one
package,” he said, holding up a small parcel, “and I certainly think they
are worth keeping, for they display your uncle’s noble character in a
variety of ways.”

“He seems to have been a fine old fellow,” Jim remarked.

“He was, indeed,” replied the vicar. “He represented all the best in our
English life.” And therewith he enlarged upon the dead man’s virtues,
while Jim listened attentively, feeling that the words were intended as
an admonition to himself.

At length Mr. Glenning turned to the unopened package. “I have been much
exercised in my mind,” he said, “as to what to do in regard to this one
packet. It is marked, as you see, ‘To be destroyed at my death.’ Of
course, the words do not actually state that the contents are not to be
read; but I thought it would be best to consult you first.”

“Thanks,” replied Jim. “I’ll have a look at it some time.”

He opened the drawer in the bureau, and bundled the letters into it,
while the vicar watched him, feeling that he was sadly lacking in
reverence, and not a little disappointed, perhaps, that the young man had
not invited him to deal with the unopened packet.

Later, when Jim was alone once more, he took this mysterious packet from
the drawer, and, seating himself upon the sofa beside the fire, cut the
string.

The nature of the contents was at once apparent: they were the relics of
an affair of the heart, and a glance at the signature of two or three of
the letters revealed the fact that the writer was not Jim’s aunt. “Ah,”
said he, with satisfaction, “then the old paragon was human, like all the
rest of us.”

A perusal of the badly-written pages, however, dispelled the atmosphere
of romance which the first short messages of twenty years ago had
promised. The story began well enough, so far as he could gather.
The lady, whose name was Emily, had evidently lost her heart to her
middle-aged lover, and was delighted with the little house he had
provided for her in a London suburb. Two or three years later she became
a mother, but the child had died, and there was a pathetic document
recording her grief. In more recent years the intrigue had developed into
an established union; and Emily, now grown complacent, and probably fat,
became a secondary spouse and mistress of the old gentleman’s alternative
home. The tale ended, however, with Emily’s marriage, two years ago, at
the age of forty, to a young city clerk; and the only romantic features
of the close of his uncle’s double life was the fact that he had
preserved a little handkerchief of hers and a dead rose.

“Well, Emily,” said Jim, aloud, “I wish you luck, wherever you are”; and
with that he gently thrust the relics into the flames.

For some time he lay back upon the sofa in the firelight, his arms
behind his head, and thought over the story which had been revealed. It
seemed, then, that the Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not be found
out,” was the essential of respectable life. A man could do what he
liked, provided that his delinquencies were hidden from his neighbours.
Was this sheer hypocrisy?—or was there some principle behind the code?
Did not Plato once say: “Every man should exert himself never to appear
to any one to be of base metal?” He had read the quotation somewhere.
Ought a man’s epitaph, then, to be: “He lived nobly, in that he kept up
appearances”?—or would it be better frankly to write: “He tried to walk
delicately, but the old Adam tripped him up?”

What would the vicar, what would Miss Proudfoote, have said had either of
them known of this double life? Where would then have been the beautiful
example of a goodly life which his uncle had left behind him as an
inspiration to the whole neighbourhood? Was it not better that the secret
was kept?

He found no answer to the questions which he thus put to himself; and
all that was apparent to him was that decent society was based not upon
the truth, but upon the hiding of the truth, and that the more lofty
the pretence the more high-principled would be the community. “Truly,”
he muttered, “we Anglo-Saxons are called hypocrites; but it is our
hypocrisy that keeps us clean!” And with that he returned to his guitar.

A few days later he took Dolly for a walk across the fields. It was an
autumnal afternoon, and although the sun shone down from a cloudless sky,
there was a chilly haze over the land, which presaged the coming of the
first frosts.

“I don’t know how I’m going to stand an English winter,” he said to her,
as they sat to rest upon a stile, under an oak from which the leaves
were falling. “Just look at the branches up there. They are nearly bare
already.” He shuddered.

She looked at him almost reproachfully. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear you say
that,” she replied. “I love the winter. I am a child of the North, you
know. To me the grey skies and the bare trees have a sort of meaning
I can’t quite explain. They are so ... so English. Think of the long,
dark evenings, when you sit over the hearth, and the firelight jumps and
dances about the walls. Think how cosy one feels when one is tucked up in
bed.”

He glanced down at her, and she smiled up at him with innocent eyes.

“Think of the snow on the ground,” she went on, “and the robins hopping
about. You should just see me scampering over the snow in my big country
boots, and sliding down the lane. Oh, it’s lovely!”

“I shouldn’t think my house is very warm,” he mused.

“It could be made awfully cosy, I’m sure,” she said. “You must have big
log fires; and if I were you I’d buy some screens to put behind the
sofas and armchairs around the fire, so that you can have little lamp-lit
corners where you can sit as warm as a toast.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” he answered.

“Have you got a woolly waistcoat?” she asked, and when he replied in the
negative she told him that she would knit one for him at once. “I love
knitting,” she said; and at the moment she believed that she did.

As they walked on she enlarged upon the delights of winter; and such
pleasant pictures did she draw that Jim began to think the coming
experience might hold unexpected happiness for him. She managed, somehow,
to introduce herself into all the scenes which she sketched, now as a
smiling little figure, vibrating with healthy life in the open air, now
purring like a warm, sleepy kitten before the fire indoors.

“From what I saw the other night,” she told him, “you seem to have
an excellent hot-water supply. You’ll be able to have beautiful hot
baths.... I simply love lying in a boiling bath before I go to bed, don’t
you?”

“I can’t say I do,” he laughed. “It makes the sheets feel so cold.”

“Oh, but you must have them warmed, with a hot-bottle or something,” she
explained. “When it’s very, very cold I sometimes creep into bed with
mother, and we cuddle up and warm each other.”

Again he glanced down at her quickly, wondering.... But her eyes were
those of a child.

Presently their path led them through a gate into a field in which a few
cows were grazing; and on seeing them Dolly hesitated.

“You’ll think me awfully silly,” she faltered, swallowing nervously, “but
I’m rather frightened of cows.”

He smiled down at her. “Take my arm,” he said; and without waiting for
her to do so, he linked his own arm in hers and laid his hand over her
fingers.

She looked anxiously at a mild-eyed, motherly cow which, weighed down
by her full udder, moved towards them slowly. “Oh dear,” she whispered,
“d’you think that cow is a bull?”

She tugged at his arm, hurrying him forward; and thereat he closed his
hand more tightly over hers and drew her close to him. He had always
regarded himself as a man of the world, and his intellect had ever poked
fun at his sentiments. Yet now, in a situation so blatantly commonplace
that he might have been expected to be totally unmoved by it, he was
intrigued like a novice. Protecting a maiden from the cows!—it was the
A.B.C. of the bumpkin’s lovelore; and yet that vulgar old lady, Nature,
had once more effectually employed her hackneyed device to his undoing,
and here was he rejoicing in his protective strength, thrilled by the
beating heart of a frightened girl, as all his ancestors for hundreds of
thousands of years had been thrilled before him in the heydays of their
adolescence and in the morning of life.

The amiable cow breathed heavily at them from a discreet distance, and
then, suddenly hilarious, lowered her head, kicked out her hind legs,
and gambolled beside them for a few yards.

“Oh, oh!” cried Dolly, grabbing at Jim’s coat with her disengaged hand.
“I’m sure he’s going to toss us! Oh, do let’s run!”

Jim halted, and held out his hand to the matronly beast. At that moment
the jeering sprite which sits in the brain of every Anglo-Saxon, pointing
with the finger of mockery at his heroics, was pushed from its throne;
and for a brief spell the bravado of primitive, gasconading man—the young
Adam cock-a-hoop—was dominant. Jim stepped forward, dragging Dolly with
him, and hit the astonished cow sharply across her flank with his hand,
whereat she went off at her best speed across the turf.

“Oh, how brave you are!” whispered Dolly; and with that the jesting
sprite climbed back upon its throne, and Jim was covered with shame.

“Nonsense!” he said. “You don’t suppose cows are put into a field through
which there’s a right of way unless they are perfectly harmless, do you?”

But pass it off as he might, Nature had played her old, old trick upon
him, and in some subtle manner his relationship to Dolly had become more
intimate, more alluring; so much so, indeed, that when he said “good-bye”
to her he asked to be allowed soon to see her again.

“I want to go in to a lecture in Oxford to-morrow evening,” she replied;
“but mother has to go to London, and won’t be back in time to take me.
Would you like to come?”

“What’s the lecture about?” he asked.

“‘The Emotional Development of the Child,’” she replied. “I love
anything to do with children, and everybody says Professor Robarts is
wonderful. He believes that a child’s character is formed in the first
three or four years of its life, and he thinks all girls should learn
just what to do, so that when they have babies of their own....” She
paused, and a dreamy look came into her eyes: a speaking look which told
of what the psycho-analysts call “the mother-urge”; and it made precisely
that impression upon Jim’s excited senses which it was intended to make.

Wise was the Buddha when, in answer to Ananda’s question as to how he
should behave in the presence of women, he made the laconic reply: “Keep
wide awake.”

“Right!” said Jim. “I’ll order old Hook’s barouche, and drive you in.”

She told him that the lecture was to begin at nine, and he left her with
the promise that he would call for her in good time.

Alone once more in his house, he could not put the thought of her
from his mind. This, perhaps, is not to be wondered at, for he was a
hot-blooded gipsy in more than appearance, and she was as pretty and
soft a little picture of feminine charm as ever graced an English
village. He failed, at any rate, to follow her strategy, and permitted
himself to be flustered by it, although there was no deliberate method
in her movements, nor did she employ any but those wiles which came
almost instinctively to her. Jim, with his experience, ought to have
realized that a woman who talks to a man innocently on intimate matters,
such as those which had cropped up without apparent intent in their
recent conversation, is, either consciously or unconsciously, Nature’s
_agent-provocateur_. She is leading his thoughts in that direction which
is the goal of her life, according to the ruthless whisperings of Nature,
who does not care one snap of the fingers for any but the first member of
that blessed trinity, Body, Soul and Spirit. The deft art of suggestion,
in the hands of an unscrupulous woman, is dangerous; but in those of a
feather-brained little conglomerate of feminine charms and instincts, it
is deadly.

These quiet summer and autumn months in the heart of the English
countryside had sobered Jim’s mind, and his exalted fancy, which had led
him at times as it were to hurl himself at the gates of heaven, was gone
from him. He told himself that, having inherited this ancient house, it
was his business to take to his bosom a wife and helpmate. His primitive
manhood had been stirred by her, and his civilized reason justified the
riot of his mere senses by the plea of practical advantage and domestic
necessity. She was a splendid little housewife, he mused, a quiet little
country girl who had learnt her lesson in the school of privation. She
was so dainty, so soft, so pretty; she would always be singing and
smiling about the house, arranging the flowers, drawing back the chintz
curtains to let the sunlight in, dusting and polishing things, and, in
the evenings, sitting curled up in an armchair knitting him waistcoats.
It would be a pleasure to adorn her in pretty dresses and jewels, to take
her up to London and show her the world, and to give her the keys of the
domestic store-cupboards. So often in his life he had been afflicted by
the sense of his loneliness; but with her at his side that mental malady
would be exorcized like a dreary ghost.

With such trivialities, when there is no real love, Nature the
Unscrupulous disguises her crude designs, and hides the one thing that
interests her in a shower of rice. All men and maidens are pawns in the
murderous game of Survival; and whether they go to happiness or to their
doom is a matter of utter indifference to the Player. Fortunately, there
are souls as well as bodies, and of souls a greater than Nature is Master.

The remarkable fact was that Jim, whose mind was now so full of the
conjugal idea, was in no way suited to a domestic life. He was a rover,
a self-constituted alien from society; but the original line of his
thoughts had been warped by his inheritance of the family property,
following as it did so closely upon his experience in the rest-house at
Kôm-es-Sultân and his consequent distaste for isolation. He was, as it
were, a wild Bedouin tribesman from the desert, sojourning in a village
caravanserai; and this little maiden who had sidled up to him had so
taken his fancy that the habitation of man had come to seem an agreeable
home, and the distant uplands were forgotten.

The grey and dreamy spires of Oxford themselves had wrought a change
in him. No man can come under their influence and maintain his mental
liberty: they are like a drug, soothing him into quiescence; they are
like a poem that drones into the brain the vanity of vigorous action.
From the windows of the manor they could be seen rising out of an
almost perpetual haze, and sometimes the breeze carried to this ancient
house the ancient sound of their chimes and their tolling. They seemed
to preach the blessedness of a quiet, peaceful life—home, marriage,
children; the continuous reproduction of unchanging types and the mild
obedience to the law of nature.

On the following evening Mr. Hook drove them into Oxford in the old
barouche. It was a chilly night, and as the carriage rumbled along the
dark lanes Jim and Dolly sat close to one another, with a fur rug spread
across their knees.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a lecture before in my life,” said he,
when their destination was reached.

“Nor had I,” she replied, “until we came to live at Eversfield. But it
seems to be the correct thing to do in Oxford.” She amended her words: “I
mean, the most interesting thing to do.”

The lecture was delivered in the hall of one of the colleges, and the
Professor proved to be a dull, reasonable man of the family doctor
type, who nevertheless aroused his audience, mostly female, to stern
expressions of approval by his declaration that the hand that spanks
the baby rules the world, and that Waterloo was won across the British
mother’s lap.

It was after ten o’clock when they entered the carriage for the return
journey; and before they had passed the outskirts of Oxford Dolly began
to yawn.

“I went for a tremendous long ramble in the woods to-day,” she explained,
“and now I can hardly keep my eyes open.”

He arranged the rug around her, and made her put her feet up on the
opposite seat; then, extending his arm so that it rested behind her back,
he told her to take off her hat, lean her head against him, and go to
sleep. She settled herself down in this manner, naturally and without any
hesitation: she was like a tired child.

In the carriage there was only a glimmer of light from the two lamps
outside; and as he sat back somewhat stiffly upon the jolting seat he
could but dimly see the mop of her fair hair against his shoulder and
the tip of her nose. He felt extraordinarily happy, and there was a
tenderness in his attitude towards her which was overwhelming. She seemed
so innocent and so trustful; and when for a moment the thought entered
his head that there was perhaps some half-conscious artifice in her
behaviour, he dismissed the suggestion with resentment.

The carriage rolled on, and in the darkness he dreamt his dream just as
all young men have dreamt it since the world began. It seemed clear to
him, now, that he had missed the best of life, because he had seldom had
an intimate comrade with whom to share his experiences; for, as Seneca
said, “the possession of no good thing is pleasant without a companion.”
In the days of his wanderings, of course, a companion had been out of the
question; but now his travels were done, and there were no hardships to
deter him from marriage. He recalled the words of the Caliph Omar which
an Egyptian had once quoted to him: “After the Faith, no blessing is
equal to a good wife”; and he remembered something in the Bible about
her price being far above rubies.

Yet such thoughts as these were but the feeble efforts of the mind to
keep pace with the senses. He was like a drunken man who speaks slowly
and distinctly to prove that he is not drunk. Had his senses permitted
him to be honest with himself he would have admitted that consideration
of the advantages of marriage had little influence upon him just now: he
wanted Dolly for his own; he wanted to put his arms about her and to kiss
her here and now while she slept; he wanted to pull her hair down so that
it should tumble about his fingers; he wanted to feel her heart beating
under his hand, to hear the sigh of her breath close to his ear....

He bent his head down so that his lips came close to her forehead, and
as he did so she raised her face. He was too deeply bewitched to realize
that, far from being tired, she was at that moment a conquering woman,
working at high pressure, acutely aware of his every movement, her nerves
and senses strained to win that which she so greatly desired.

For some minutes he remained abnormally still, a little shy perhaps,
perhaps desiring to linger upon the wonderful moment like a child agape
at the threshold of a circus. Presently she sat up.

“Why, I’ve been asleep!” she exclaimed. “Are we nearly home?”

“Yes,” he answered, without rousing himself from his dream.

She raised her hands to her head; she did something with her fingers
which, in the dim light, he could not see; and a moment later he felt
her hair tumbling about his hand.

“Oh dear, my hair’s fallen down,” she said.

He drew in his breath sharply. “Don’t wake up!” he gasped. “Put your head
down again where it was.”

With a sigh of contentment she did as she was told; but now his arms were
around her, and all his ten fingers were buried in her hair. He could
just discern her eyes looking up at him with a sort of dismay in them; he
could see her mouth a little open. He bent down and kissed her lips.



Chapter VIII: MARRIAGE


An old proverb says that marriages are made in heaven. It is one of those
ridiculous utterances born of primitive fatalism: it is akin to the
statement that afflictions are sent by God for His inscrutable purpose.
Actually, marriages in their material aspect are made by soulless Nature,
who plots and plans for nothing else, and who cares for nothing else
except the production of the next generation.

One cannot blame Dolly for using the less worthy arts of her sex to
capture the man she wanted. One cannot think ill of Jim for having been
betrayed by his senses into an alliance wherein there was little hope of
happiness. Nature has strewn the whole world with her traps; she tricks
and inveigles all young men and women with these dreams and promises of
joy; she schemes and intrigues and conspires for one purpose, and one
purpose only; and in so doing she has no more thought of that spiritual
union, which is the only sort of marriage made in heaven, than she has
when she sends the pollen from one flower to the next upon the wings of
the bees.

Human beings in the spring-time of life are the dupes of Nature’s
heedless _joie de vivre_, and fortunate are those who can take her animal
pranks in good part and avoid getting hurt. Her victims are swayed
and tossed about by yearnings and desires, passions and jealousies,
tremendous joys and desperate sorrows: because she is everywhere at
work upon the sole occupation which interests her—her scheme of racial
survival.

The marvel is that so many marriages are happy, considering that youths
and maidens are flung together, haphazard, by mighty forces, upon the
irresistibility of which the whole existence of the race depends. Well
does Nature know that if once men and women mastered their yearnings, if
once men should fail to hunt and women to entice, the game would be lost,
and the human race would become extinct.

During the following week Jim and Dolly saw each other every day; but,
though their intimacy developed, Jim made no definite proposal of
marriage. He was a lazy fellow. It was as though he preferred to drift
into that state without undergoing the ordeal of the social formalities.
He seemed to be carried along by circumstances, yet he dreaded what may
be termed the business side of the matter.

At length Dolly brought matters to a point in her characteristic manner
of assumed ingenuousness. “I think, dear,” she said, “we had better tell
mother about it now, hadn’t we? She will be so hurt if she finds that
we’ve been leaving her out of our happiness.”

Jim made no protest. He felt rather stupid, and the thought of going to
Mrs. Darling, hand-in-hand with Dolly, seemed to him to be positively
frightening in its crudity. It would be like walking straight into a
trap. He would have preferred to slip off to a registry-office, and to
see no friend or relative for a year afterwards.

The ordeal, however, proved to be less painful than he had anticipated,
thanks to the tact displayed by Mrs. Darling. When Dolly came into the
room at the cottage, triumphantly leading in her captive, the elder woman
at once checked any utterance which was about to be made by declaring
that Jim had just arrived in time to advise her in the choice of a new
chintz for her chairs.

“Dolly, dear,” she said, “run upstairs and fetch me that book of
patterns, will you?” And as soon as the girl had left the room she added:
“I wonder whether your taste will agree with Dolly’s?”

“I expect so,” he replied, significantly.

“I hope so, for your sake,” she smiled; and then, turning confidentially
to him, she whispered: “Tell me quickly, before she comes back: do you
seriously want to marry her, or shall I help you to get out of it?”

Jim was completely startled, and stammered the beginning of an incoherent
reply.

She interrupted him, putting a plump hand on his shoulder. “It has been
clear to me for some time that Dolly is desperately in love with you, and
I know she has brought you here to settle the thing. But I’m a woman of
the world, my dear boy: I don’t want to rush you into anything you don’t
intend; for the fact is, I like you very much indeed.”

Jim made the only possible reply. “But,” he said with conviction, “I want
to marry her. I’ve come to ask you. May I?”

Mrs. Darling looked at him intently. “You will have to manage her,” she
told him. “She is very young and rather full of absurdities, you know.
But you have knocked about the world: I should think you would be able
to get the best out of her, and, anyhow, I shall feel she is in good
hands.”

When the girl returned, after a somewhat prolonged absence, her mother
looked almost casually at her. “Dolly,” she said, “I don’t know if you
are aware of it, but you are engaged to be married.”

Thereat the three of them laughed happily, and the rest was plain sailing.

Later that day Dolly strolled arm-in-arm with Jim around the grounds of
the manor, looking about her with an air of proprietorship which he found
very fascinating. The linking of their lives and their belongings seemed
to him like a delightful game.

“I do like your mother,” he said. “She’s a real good sort.”

Dolly looked up at him quickly. “Poor mother!” she replied. “I don’t know
what we can do with her. She won’t like leaving Eversfield.”

“Oh, why should she go?” Jim asked.

“It would never do for her to stay,” Dolly answered firmly.
“Mothers-in-law are always in the way, however nice they are. I’m not
going to risk her getting on your nerves.” She looked at him with an
expression like that of a wise child.

“Well, we’ll rent a flat for her in London,” he suggested, “and I’ll give
her the cottage, too, so that she can come down to it sometimes.”

Dolly shook her head. “No,” she said coldly, “she has enough money to
keep herself.” His sentiments in regard to her mother had perhaps ruffled
her somewhat, and an expression had passed over her face which she hoped
he had not seen. She endeavoured, therefore, to turn his thoughts to more
intimate matters. “I should hate mother to be a burden to you,” she went
on. “It’ll be bad enough for you to have to buy all my clothes.”

“I shall love it,” he replied, with enthusiasm.

“Ah, you don’t know how expensive they are,” she hesitated. “You see,
it isn’t only what shows on top”—her voice died down to a luscious
whisper—“it’s all the things underneath as well. Women’s clothes are
rather wonderful, you know.”

She smiled shyly, and at that moment their marriage was to him a thing
most fervently to be desired.

Events moved quickly, and it was decided that the engagement should not
be of long duration. The news of the coming wedding caused a great stir
in the village; and when the banns were read in the little church all
eyes were turned upon them as they sat, he in the Squire’s pew, and she
with her mother near by. They formed a curious contrast in type: she,
with her fair hair, her childlike face, and her dainty little figure; and
he with his swarthy complexion, his dark, restless eyes, and his rather
untidy clothes. People wondered whether they would be happy, and the
general opinion was that the little lamb had fallen into the power of a
wolf. The village, in fact, had not taken kindly to the new Squire and
his “foreign” ways; and Mrs. Spooner, the doctor’s wife, had voiced the
general opinion by nicknaming him “Black Rupert.”

The weeks passed by rapidly, and soon Christmas was upon them. The
wedding was fixed for the end of January, and during that month Jim
caused various alterations to be made in the furnishing of the manor,
in accordance with Dolly’s wishes, for she held very decided views in
this regard, and did not agree with his retention of so many of the
mid-Victorian features in the drawing-room and the bedrooms. He himself
had intended at first to be rid of most of these things, but later he had
begun to feel, as Mr. Beadle had said he would, that he owed a certain
homage to the past.

“Men don’t understand about these things,” Dolly said to him, patting his
face; “but, if you want to please me, you’ll let me make a list of the
pieces of furniture that ought to be got rid of and sell them.”

The consequence was that a van-load left the manor a few days later, and
Miss Proudfoote and the vicar held one another’s hand as it passed, and
choked with every understandable emotion, while Mr. and Mrs. Longarm wept
openly at the gates.

The wedding-day at length arrived, and the ceremony proved a very trying
ordeal to Jim; for Mr. Glenning had organized the village demonstrations
of goodwill, with the result that the school children, blue with cold,
were lined up at the church door, the pews inside were packed with
uncomfortably-dressed yokels with burnished faces and creaking boots, and
a great deal of rice was thrown as the happy couple left the building.

Afterwards there was a reception at the Darling’s cottage; and Jim,
wearing a tail-coat and a stiff collar for the first time in his life,
suffered torments which were not entirely ended by a later change into a
brand-new suit of grey tweed. Throughout this trying time Mrs. Darling,
fat and flushed, proved to be his comforter and his stand-by; and it was
through her good offices that the hired car, which was to take them to
the railway station at Oxford, claimed them an hour too early.

Dolly, who had looked like an angel of Zion in her wedding dress,
appeared, in her travelling costume, like a dryad of the Bois de
Boulogne, and Jim, who had seen something of her trousseau, turned to
Mrs. Darling in rapture.

“I say!” he exclaimed. “You have rigged Dolly out wonderfully! I’ve never
seen such clothes.”

Mrs. Darling smiled. “I believe in pretty dresses,” she said, with
fervent conviction. “They tend to virtue. I believe that when the
respectable women of England took to wearing what were called indecent
clothes, they struck their first effective blow at the power of
Piccadilly. Has it never occurred to you that young peers have almost
ceased to marry chorus girls now that peer’s daughters dress like leading
ladies?”

The honeymoon was spent upon the Riviera, and here it was that Jim
realized for the first time the exactions of marriage. This exquisitely
costumed little wife of his could not be taken to the kind of inn
which he had been accustomed to patronize, and he was therefore
obliged to endure all the discomforts of fashionable hotel life, with
its nerve-racking corollaries—the jabbering crowds, the perspiring,
stiff-shirted diners, the clatter, bustle and perplexity, terminating in
each case in the dreaded crisis of gratuity-giving and escape.

With all his Bedouin heart he loathed this sort of thing, and, had he not
been the slave of love, he would have rebelled against it at once. Dolly
saw his distress, but only added to it by her superior efforts to train
him in the way in which he should go; and it was with a sigh of profound
relief that at length he found himself in Eversfield once more, when the
first buds of spring were powdering the trees with green, and the early
daffodils were opening to the growing warmth of the sun.

Jim’s work in connection with the estate was not onerous, but he very
soon found that various small matters had constantly to be seen to,
and often they were the cause of annoyance. Rents were not always paid
promptly, and if his agent pressed for them the tenants regarded Jim,
who knew nothing about it, as stern and exacting. Mr. Merrivall held his
lease of Rose Cottage on terms which provided that the tenant should
be responsible for all interior repairs; and now he announced that the
kitchen boiler was worn out, and the question had to be decided as to
whether a boiler was an interior or a structural fitting. Some eighty
acres were farmed by Mr. Hopkins on a sharing agreement, that is to
say, Jim took a part of the profits in lieu of rent; but this sort of
arrangement is always fruitful of disputes, and, in the case in question,
the fact that Jim instinctively mistrusted Farmer Hopkins, and Farmer
Hopkins mistrusted Jim, led at once to friction.

Matters came to a head in the early summer. The farmer had decided to
remove the remains of a last year’s hayrick from the field where it stood
to a shed near his stable, and, during the process, he attempted to make
a short-cut by drawing his heavily-loaded wagon over a disused bridge
which spanned a ditch. The bridge, however, collapsed under the weight,
and the wagon was wrecked.

The farmer thereupon demanded compensation from Jim, since the latter
was the owner of the bridge and therefore responsible for it. Jim,
however, replied that that road had been closed for many years to all but
pedestrians, and, if anything, the farmer ought to pay for the mending
of the bridge. Mr. Hopkins then declared that he was going to law, and,
in the meantime, he aired his grievances nightly at the “Green Man,” the
village public-house.

The trouble simmered for a time, and then, one morning, the two men met
by chance at the scene of the disaster. A wordy argument followed, and
Farmer Hopkins, with a mouthful of oaths, repeated his determination to
go to law, whereupon Jim lost his temper.

“Look here!” he said. “I don’t know anything about your blasted law, but
I do know when I’m being imposed upon. If you mention the word ‘law’ to
me again I’ll put my fist through your face.”

“Two can play at that game,” exclaimed the farmer, red with anger.

“Very well, then, come on!” cried Jim, impulsively, and, pulling off his
coat and tossing his hat aside, he began to roll up his shirt-sleeves.

Mr. Hopkins was a bigger and heavier man than the Squire, but Jim had the
advantage of him in age, being some five years younger, and they were
therefore very well matched. The farmer however, did not wish to fight,
and, indeed, was so disconcerted at the prospect that he stood staring
at Jim’s lithe, wild figure like a puzzled bull.

“Take your coat off!” Jim shouted. “We’ll have this matter out now. Put
up your fists!”

The farmer thereupon dragged off his coat, and a moment later the two men
were at it hammer and tongs, Mr. Hopkins’ fists swinging like a windmill,
and Jim, with more skill, parrying the blows and sending right and left
to his opponent’s body with good effect. The first bout was ended by Jim
dodging a terrific right and returning his left to the farmer’s jaw,
thereby sending him to the ground.

As he rose to his feet Jim shouted at him: “Well, will you now mend your
own damned cart and let me mend my bridge?—or do you want to go on?”

For answer the infuriated Mr. Hopkins charged at him, and, breaking his
guard, sent his fist into Jim’s eye; but he omitted to follow up the
advantage with his idle left, and, in consequence, received an exactly
similar blow upon his own bloodshot optic.

It was at this moment that a scream was heard, and Dolly appeared from
behind a hedge, a curious habit of hers, that of always wishing to know
what her husband was doing, having led her to follow him into the fields.

“James!” she cried in horror—ever since their marriage she had called him
“James”—“What are you doing? Mr. Hopkins!—are you both mad?”

“Pretty mad,” replied Jim.

“Call yourself a gentleman!” roared the farmer, holding his hand to his
eye.

“Oh, please, please!” Dolly entreated. “Go home, Mr. Hopkins, before he
kills you! James, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, fighting like a
common man. You have disgraced me!”

Jim, who was recovering his coat, looked up at her out of his one
serviceable eye in astonishment. Then, turning to his opponent, he said:
“We’ll finish this some other time, if you want to.”

He then walked off the field of battle, his coat slung across his
shoulder and his dark hair falling over his forehead, while Mr. Hopkins
sat down upon the stump of a tree and spat the blood out of his mouth.

For many days thereafter Dolly would hardly speak to her disfigured
husband, except to tell him, when he walked abroad with his blackened
eye, that he had no shame. Farmer Hopkins, however, mended his wagon
in time, and Jim mended his bridge; and there, save for much village
head-shaking at the “Green Man” and melancholy talk at the vicarage, the
matter ended. It was a regrettable affair, and the general opinion in the
village was that “Black Rupert” was a man to be avoided. Miss Proudfoote,
in fact, would hardly bow to him when next she passed him in the lane;
and even Mr. Glenning, who quarrelled with no man, gazed at him, in
church on the following Sunday, with an expression of deep reproof upon
his venerable face.

It was after this painful incident that Jim formed the habit of going
for long rambling walks by himself, or of wandering deep into the woods
near the manor. Sometimes he would sit for hours upon a stile in the
fields, sucking a straw and staring vacantly into the distance at the
misty towers and spires of the ancient University, or lie in the grass,
gazing up at the sky, listening to the far-off bells, his arms behind
his head. Sometimes he would take a book from his uncle’s library—some
eighteenth-century romance, or a volume of Elizabethan poetry—and go with
it into the woods, there to remain for a whole afternoon, reading in it
or in the book of Nature.

These woods had a curious effect upon him, and entering them seemed to
be like finding sanctuary. It was not that his life, at this period, was
altogether unhappy: his heart was full of tenderness towards Dolly, and,
if her behaviour was beginning to disappoint him, his attitude was at
first but one of vague disquietude. Yet here amongst the understanding
trees he felt that he was taking refuge from some menace which he could
not define; and at times he wondered whether the sensation was due to
a mental throw-back to some outlawed ancestor who had roamed the merry
greenwood, in the manner of Adam Bell and Clim of the Clough and William
Cloudesley in the ancient ballads of the North of England.

He was conscious of a decided sense of failure and he felt that he was a
useless individual. To a limited extent he used his brains and his pen in
writing the verses which always amused him, but he rarely finished any
such piece of work, and seldom composed a poem of any considerable length.

His character was not of the kind which would be likely to appeal to the
stay-at-home Englishman. He did not play golf, and though as a youth he
had been fond of cricket and tennis, his wandering life had given him no
opportunities of maintaining his skill in these games, and now it was too
late to begin again. He was not particularly interested in horseflesh,
and he had no mechanical turn which might vent itself in motoring.
His habits were modest and temperate; he preferred pitch-and-toss or
“shove-ha’penny” to bridge; and he was a poor judge of port wine. He was
sociable where the company was to his taste, but neither his neighbours
at and around Eversfield, nor the professors at Oxford, were congenial
to him. When there were visitors to the manor he was generally not able
to be found; and when he was obliged to accompany his wife to the houses
of other people, he was conscious that her eyes were upon him anxiously,
lest he should show himself for what he was—a rebel and an outlaw.

On one occasion the vicar persuaded him to sing and play his guitar at
a village concert; but the result was disastrous, and the invitation
was never repeated. He chose to sing them Kipling’s “Mandalay”; but the
pathos and the romance of the rough words were lost upon his stolid
audience, to whom there was no meaning in the picture of the mist on the
rice-fields and the sunshine on the palms, nor sense in the contrasting
description of the “blasted Henglish drizzle” and the housemaids with
beefy faces and grubby hands.

He himself was carried away by the words, and he sang with fervour:—

    Ship me somewhere east of Suez, where the best is like the worst
    Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments, an’ a man can raise a thirst;
    For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be—
    By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea.

He did not see Dolly’s frowns, nor the pained expression upon the
vicar’s face, nor yet the smirks of the yokels; and when the song was
ended he came suddenly back to earth, as it were, and was abashed at the
feebleness of the applause.

Later, as he left the hall, he was stopped outside the door by a
disreputable, red-haired creature, nicknamed “Smiley-face,” who was
often spoken of as the village idiot. He grinned at Jim and touched his
forelock.

“Thank ’e, sir,” he said, “for that there song. My, you do sing
beautiful, sir!”

“I’m glad you liked it,” Jim answered.

“It was just like dreamin’,” Smiley-face muttered.

Jim looked at him quickly, and felt almost as though he had found a
friend. He himself had been dreaming as he sang, and here, at any rate,
was one man who had dreamed with him—and they called him the village
idiot!



Chapter IX: IN THE WOODS


As in the case of so many unions in which mutual attraction of a quite
superficial nature has been mistaken for love, the marriage of Jim
and Dolly was a complete disaster. Disquietude began to make itself
felt within a few weeks, but many months elapsed before Jim faced the
situation without any further attempt at self-deception. The revelation
that he had nothing to say to his wife, no thought to exchange with her,
had come to him early. At first he had tried to believe that it was due
to some sort of natural reticence in both their natures; and one day,
chancing to open a volume of the poems of Matthew Arnold which Dolly had
placed upon an occasional table in the drawing-room (for the look of the
thing) he had found some consolation in the following lines:—

    Alas, is even Love too weak
    To unlock the heart and let it speak?
    Are even lovers powerless to reveal
    To one another what indeed they feel?
    I knew the mass of men conceal’d
    Their thoughts....
    But we, my love—does a like spell benumb
    Our hearts, our voices? Must we, too, be dumb?

Other lovers, then, had experienced that blank-wall feeling: it was just
human nature. But soon he began to realize that in this case the trouble
was more serious. He had nothing to say to her. She did not understand
him, nor call forth his confidences.

For months he had struggled against the consciousness that he had made
a fatal mistake; but at length the horror of his marriage, of his
inheritance, and of society in general as he saw it here in England,
became altogether too large a presence to hide itself in the dark
corners of his mind. It came out of the shadows and confronted him in
the daylight of his heart—an ugly, menacing figure, towering above him,
threatening him, arguing with him, whithersoever he went. He attributed
features to it, and visualized it so that it took definite shape. It had
a lewd eye which winked at him; it had a ponderous, fat body, straining
at the buttons of the black clothing of respectability; it had heavy,
flabby hands which stroked him as though urging him to accept its
companionship. It was his gaoler, and it wanted to be friends with him.

At length one autumn day, while he was sitting in the woods among the
falling leaves, he turned his inward eyes with ferocious energy upon the
monster, and set his mind to a full study of the situation it personified.

In the first place, Dolly held views in regard to the position and status
of wife which offended Jim’s every ideal. She was firmly convinced
that marriage was, first and foremost, designed by God for the purpose
of producing in the male creature a disinclination for romance. It
involved a mutual duty, a routine: the wife had functions to perform
with condescension, the husband had recurrent requirements to be
indulged in order that his life might pursue its way with the least
possible excitement. The whole thing was an ordained and prescriptive
business, like a soldier’s drill or a patient’s diet; nor did she seem to
realize that there was no room for real love in her conception of their
relationship, no sweet enchantment, no exaltation.

Then, again, he was very much disappointed that Dolly had no wish to
have a child of her own. She had explained to him early in their married
life how her doctor had told her there would be the greatest possible
danger for her in motherhood; but it had not taken Jim long to see that a
combination of fear, selfishness and vanity were the true causes of her
disinclination to maternity. She was always afraid of pain and in dread
of death; she always thought first of her own comfort; and she was vain
of her youthful figure.

These two facts, that she asserted herself as his wife and that she
shunned parenthood, combined to produce a condition of affairs which
offended Jim’s every instinct. In these matters men are so often more
fastidious than women, though the popular pretence is to the contrary;
and in the case of this unfortunate marriage there was an appalling
contrast between the crudity of the angel-faced little wife and the
delicacy of the hardy husband.

A further trouble was that she regarded marriage as a duality
incompatible with solitude or with any but the most temporary separation.
One would have thought that she had based her interpretation of the
conjugal state upon some memory of the Siamese Twins. When Jim was
writing verses in the study—an occupation which, by the way, she
endeavoured to discourage—she would also want to write there; when he
was entertaining a male friend she would enter the room, and refuse
to budge—not because she liked the visitor, but because she must
needs assert her standing as wife and as partner of all her husband’s
amusements; when he went into Oxford or up to London she would insist
on going too; even when he was talking to the gardener she would come
up behind him, slip her arm through his, and immediately enter the
conversation.

At first, when he used to tell her that he was going alone into Oxford
to have a drink and a chat in the public room at one of the hotels, she
would burst into tears, or take offence less liquid but more devastating.
Later she accused him of an intrigue with a barmaid, and went into
tantrums when in desperation he replied: “No such luck.” For the sake of
peace he found it necessary at last to give up all such excursions except
when they were unavoidable, and gradually his life had become that of a
prisoner.

She carried this assertion of her wifely rights to galling and
intolerable lengths. She would look over his shoulder when he was writing
letters, and would be offended if he did not let her do so, or if he
withheld the letters he received. On two or three occasions she had come
to him, smiling innocently, and had handed him some opened envelope, and
had said: “I’m so sorry, dear; I opened this by mistake. I thought it was
for me.”

He could keep nothing from her prying eyes; and yet, in contrast to this
curiosity, she showed no interest whatsoever in his life previous to his
marriage, a fact which indicated clearly enough that her concern was
solely in regard to _her_ relationship with him, and was not prompted by
any desire to enter into his personality. At first he had wanted to tell
her of his early wanderings; but she had been bored, or even shocked, by
his narrations, and had told him that his adventures did not sound very
“nice.” Thus, though now she watched his every movement, she had no idea
of his early travels, nor knew, except vaguely, what lands he had dwelt
in, nor was she aware that in those days he had passed under the name of
Easton.

Now Jim enjoyed telling a story: he was, in fact, a very interesting
and vivacious raconteur; and he felt, at first, sad disappointment
that his roaming life should be regarded as a subject too dull or too
unrespectable for narration. “It’s a funny thing,” he once said to
himself, “but that girl, Monimé, at Alexandria knows far more about me
than my own wife, and I only knew her for a few hours!”

And then her poses and affectations! He discovered early in their
married life that her offers to teach the cook her business, or to knit
him waistcoats, were entirely fraudulent. She had none of the domestic
virtues—a fact which only troubled him because she persisted in seeing
herself in the rôle of practical housewife: he had no wish for her to be
a cook or a sewing woman. She went through a phase in which she pictured
herself as a sun-bonneted poultry-farmer. She bought a number of Rhode
Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons; she caused elaborate hen-houses to be
set up; and she subscribed to various poultry fanciers’ journals. But
it was not many weeks before the pens were derelict and their occupants
gone. For some months she played the part of the Lady Bountiful to the
village, and might have been seen tripping down the lanes to visit the
aged cottagers, a basket on her arm. This occupation, however, soon began
to pall, and her apostacy was marked by a gradual abandonment of the job
to the servants. Later she had attached herself to the High Church party
in Oxford, and had added new horrors to the state of wedlock by regarding
it as a mystic sacrament....

The most recent of her phases had followed on from this. She had asked
Jim to allow her to bring to the house the orphaned children of a distant
relative of her mother’s: two little girls, aged four and five. “It will
be so sweet,” she had said, “to hear their merry laughter echoing about
this old house. It will be some compensation for my great sorrow in not
being allowed to have babies of my own.”

Jim had readily consented, for he was very fond of children; and soon
the mites had arrived, very shy and tearful at first, but presently well
content with their lot. Dolly declared that no nurse would be necessary,
as she would delight in attending to them herself, and for two weeks she
had played the little mother with diminishing enthusiasm. But the day
speedily came when help was found to be necessary, and now a good-natured
nursery-governess was installed at the manor.

Having thus regained her leisure, she bought a notebook, and labelling
it “The Tiny Tot’s Treasury,” spent several mornings in dividing the
pages into sections under elaborate headings written in a large round
hand. Jim chanced upon this book one day—it lay open upon a table—and two
section-headings caught his eye. They read:—

      _Hands, games with_                 _Toes, games with_

    “Can you keep a secret?”        “This little pig went to market.”
    “Pat-a-cake.”

The book was abandoned within a week or two; but the recollection of its
futility, its pose, remained in Jim’s memory for many a day.

The presence of these two little girls, while being a considerable
pleasure to Jim in itself, had been the means of irritating him still
further in regard to his wife. Sometimes, when she remembered it, she
would go up to the nursery to bid them “good-night” and to hear their
prayers; and when he accompanied her upon this mission his spontaneous
heart was shocked to notice how her attitude towards them was dictated
solely by the picture in her own mind which represented herself as
the ideal mother. There was a long mirror in the nursery, and, as she
caressed the two children, her eyes were fixed upon her own reflection as
though the vision pleased her profoundly.

And then, only a few days ago, a significant occurrence had taken place
which had led to a painful scene between Dolly and himself. One morning
at breakfast the elder of the two little girls had told him that she had
had an “awfully awful” dream.

“It was all about babies,” she had said, and then, pausing shyly, she had
added: “But I mustn’t tell you about it, because it’s very naughty.”

He was alone in the room with them at the time, and he had questioned
the round-eyed little girl, and had eventually extracted from her the
startling information that on the previous evening Dolly had been telling
them “how babies grew,” but had warned them that it would be naughty to
talk about it.

He was furious, and when his wife came downstairs at mid-morning—she
always had her breakfast in bed—he had caught hold of her arm and had
asked her what on earth she meant by talking in this manner to two
infants of four and five years of age.

“It’s not your business,” was the reply. “You must trust a woman’s
instinct to know when to reveal things to little girls.”

“Oh, rot” he had answered, angrily; and suddenly he had put into hot and
scornful words his interpretation of Dolly’s untimely action. “The fact
is, your motive is never disinterested. You are always picturing yourself
in one rôle or another. You didn’t even think what sort of impression you
were making on the minds of those little girls: you were only play-acting
for your own edification.”

“I don’t understand you,” she had stammered, shocked and frightened.

“You pictured yourself,” he went on, with bitter sarcasm, “as the sweet
and wise mother revealing to the wide-eyed little girls the great secrets
of Nature. I suppose some Oxford ass has been lecturing to a lot of you
silly women about the duties of motherhood, and you at once built up your
foolish picture, and thought it would make a charming scene—the gentle
mother, the two little babies at your knee, their lisping questions
and your pure, sweet answer, telling them the wonderful vocation of
womanhood. And then you went upstairs and forced it on the poor little
souls, just to gratify your vanity; but afterwards you were frightened at
what you had done, and told them they mustn’t speak about it, because it
was naughty. Naughty!—Good God!—That one word has already sown the seed
of corruption in their minds. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

He had not waited for her reply, but had left the room, and had gone
with clenched fists into the woods, his usual refuge, sick at heart, and
appalled that his life was linked to such a sham thing as his wife had
proved herself to be.

He had longed to get away from her, away from Eversfield, back to his
beloved high roads once more, out of this evil stagnation; and all the
while the ponderous, black-coated creature of his imagination had leered
at him and stroked him.

When next he saw his wife he had found her in the rock-garden playing a
game with the two children, as though she were determined to make him
realize her ability to enter into their mental outlook. “We are playing a
game of fairies,” she had told him, evidently not desiring to keep up the
quarrel. “All the flowers are enchanted people, and the rockery there is
an ogre’s castle. We’re having a lovely time.”

The two little girls actually were standing staring in front of them,
utterly bored; for the ability to play with children is a delicate art
in which few “grown-ups” are at ease. But Dolly, as she crouched upon
the ground, was not concerned with anybody save herself, and the game was
designed for the applause of her inward audience and for the eye of her
husband, and not at all for the entertainment of her charges.

“Well, when you’ve finished I want you to come and help me tidy my
writing-table and tear things up,” he had said to the children; and
thereat they had asked Dolly whether they might please go now, and
had pranced into the house at his side, leaving her sighing in the
rock-garden.

Thoughts and memories such as these paraded before his mind’s eye as he
sat upon a fallen tree trunk, deep in the woods. The afternoon was warm
and still, and the leaves which fell one by one from the surrounding
trees seemed to drop from the branches deliberately, as though each were
answering an individual call of the earth. Sometimes his heavy thoughts
were interrupted by the shrill note of a bird, and once there was a
startled scurry amongst the undergrowth as a rabbit observed him and went
bounding away.

The wood was not very extensive, but, with the surrounding fields, it
afforded a certain amount of shooting; and one of Jim’s tenants, Pegett
by name, who lived in a cottage in a clearing at the far side, acted as a
sort of gamekeeper, his house being given to him free of rent in return
for his services.

The sun had set, and the haze of a windless twilight had gathered in the
distant spaces between the trees when at length Jim rose to return to the
manor. His ruminations had led him to no very definite conclusion, save
only that he had made a horrible mistake, and that he must adjust his
life to this glaring fact, even though he offend Dolly’s dignity in the
process.

As he stood for a moment in silence, stretching his arms like one awaking
from sleep, he was suddenly aware of the sound of cracking twigs and
rustling leaves, and, looking in the direction from which it came, he
caught sight of the red-faced Pegett, the gamekeeper, emerging, gun in
hand, from behind a group of tree-trunks. The man ran forward, and then,
recognizing him, paused and touched his cap.

“Beg pardon, sir,” he said, breathing heavily, “I’m after that there
poaching thief, Smiley-face. ’E’s at it again: I seen ’im slip in with
’is tackle. I seen ’im from my window.”

“He’s not been this way,” Jim assured him. “I’ve been sitting here a long
time.”

“’E’s a clever ’un!” Pegett muttered, “but I’ll get ’im one ’o these
days, sir, I will; and I’ll put a barrel o’ shot into ’is legs.”

“He’s not quite right in his head, is he?” Jim asked.

“Oh, ’e’s wise enough,” the man replied; “wise enough to get ’is dinner
off of your rabbits, sir. That’s been ’is game since ’e were no more’n a
lad. And never done an honest day’s work in ’is life.”

Smiley-face, as has been said, was generally considered to be
half-witted; but on the few occasions on which Jim had spoken to him he
had answered intelligently enough, not to say cheekily, though there
was something most uncanny about his continuous smile. Nobody seemed to
know exactly how he lived. He slept in a garret in a lonely cottage
belonging to an aged and witch-like woman known as old Jenny, and it was
to be presumed that he did odd jobs for her in return for his keep; but
she herself was a mysterious soul, not inclined to waste words on the
passer-by, and her cottage, which stood midway between Eversfield and the
neighbouring village of Bedley-Sutton, was superstitiously shunned by the
inhabitants of both places.

Pegett was eager to track down the malefactor, and presently he
disappeared among the trees, moving like a burlesque of a Red Indian, and
actually making sufficient noise to rouse the woods for a hundred yards
around. Jim, meanwhile, made his way towards the manor, walking quietly
upon the moss-covered path, and pausing every now and then to listen
to the distant commotion caused by the gamekeeper’s efforts to break a
silent way through the brittle twigs and crisp, dead leaves.

He had just sighted the gate which led from the wood to the lower part
of the garden of the manor when his eye was attracted by the swaying of
the upper branch of an oak a short distance from the path. He paused,
wondering what had caused the movement, which had sent a shower of
leaves to the ground, and to his surprise he presently discerned a man’s
foot resting upon it, the remainder of his body being hidden behind the
broad trunk. He guessed immediately that he had chanced upon, and treed,
Smiley-face, and, having a fellow feeling for the poacher, he called
out to him, quite good-naturedly, to come down. He received no answer,
however; and going therefore to the foot of the oak, he looked up at the
man, who was now hardly concealed, and again addressed him.

“It’s no good pretending to be a woodpecker, Smiley-face,” he said. “Come
down at once, or I’ll shy a stone at you.”

Smiley-face was a youngish man, with dirty red hair, puckered pink skin,
and a smile which extended from ear to ear. His nose was snub, and his
eyes were like two sparkling little blue beads, cunning and merry. He now
thrust this surprising countenance forward over the top of a branch, and
stared down at Jim with an expression of intense relief.

“Lordee!—it’s the Squire,” he muttered. “You did give I a fright, sir: I
thought it was Mr. Pegett with ’is gun. Shoot I dead, ’e said he would.
’E said it to my face, up yonder at the Devil’s Crossroads: would you
believe it?”

“Yes, he told me he’d let you have an ounce of small shot, but only in
the legs of course.”

“Oo!” said Smiley-face. “And me that tender, what with thorn and nettle
and the midges.”

“You’d better come down,” Jim advised. “He’s after you now; and you can
see I myself haven’t got my gun with me, or I’d pepper you too.”

The man descended the tree, talking incoherently as he swung from branch
to branch. Presently he dropped to the ground from one of the lower
boughs, and stood grinning before Jim, a dirty, ragged creature without a
point to commend him.

“Fairly cotched I am,” he declared. “But I knows a gen’l’man when I sees
un. I knows when it’s safe and when it baint. If I was to run now, d’you
reckon you could catch I, sir?”

For answer Jim’s lean arm shot out, and his hand gripped hold of the
handkerchief knotted around the man’s neck. Smiley-face swung his fist
round, but the blow missed; and Jim, who had learnt a trick or two from a
little Jap in California, tripped him up with ease, and the next moment
was kneeling upon his chest.

“What about that, Smiley-face?” he asked, laughing.

“Wonderful!” replied the poacher. “I should never ha’ thought it.”

Jim rose to his feet. “Get up,” he said, “and let me hear what you’ve got
to say for yourself.” Then, as the man did as he was bid, he added: “If
Pegett comes along, you can slip through that gate and across my garden.
Nobody will see you.”

Smiley-face grinned. “Thank’ee kindly, sir,” he said, touching his
forelock. “I knew you was a kind gen’l’man.”

“Oh, cut that out,” Jim replied sharply. “What d’you mean by going after
my rabbits?”

“O Lordee! Be they yours?” Smiley-face scratched his red head.

“You know very well they are. I own this place, don’t I?”

“And the rabbits, too?”

“Well, of course!”

“I reckon _they_ don’t know it, sir,” Smiley-face muttered, still
grinning broadly.

“Don’t be an idiot,” said Jim.

The poacher held up his forefinger as though in reproach. “I’m a poor
man, me lord,” he murmured.

“You’re a thief.”

“Oh, no,” replied Smiley-face with assurance. “Poachers isn’t thieves,
your highness.”

“Well they’re _my_ rabbits.”

“But I’m a poor man,” the other repeated.

“So you said,” Jim answered. “That’s no excuse.”

Smiley-face shook his head. “You wouldn’t be like to understand a poor
man—not with a big ’ouse, and ’undreds o’ rabbits, you wouldn’t.”

“Oh, wouldn’t I!” said Jim. “I’ve been poor myself. I’ve known what it is
not to have a cent in the world. I’ve slept in hedges; I’ve tramped the
roads....”

“_You_ ’ave?” The poacher was incredulous, and thrust his head forward,
staring at his captor with cunning little eyes.

“Yes, I have,” Jim declared.

“Lordee!” exclaimed Smiley-face. “Then you know....”

“Know what?” asked Jim.

The man made a non-committal gesture. “It’s not for me to say what you
know, your worship. But you _do_ know.”

Jim made an impatient movement. “Look here now, if I let you go this time
will you promise not to do it again?”

Smiley-face shook his head, and again touched his forelock. “Oh, I
couldn’t do that, sir. It’s tremenjus sport; and old Jenny she do cook
rabbit fine, sir; _and_ eat un, too. Don’t be angry, your highness,” he
added quickly, as Jim turned threateningly upon him.

“Don’t keep calling me ‘your highness’ and ‘my lord.’ I’m a plain man,
the same as you.”

“So you be, sir,” the other smiled. “You’ve walked the roads; you’ve lain
out o’ nights. You _know_. And now you’re a-askin’ o’ I not to poach!
Oh, you can’t do that, sir....”

“Well, supposing I give you permission to poach every now and then?” Jim
suggested.

“What?—and tell Mr. Pegett not to shoot I dead? Oh, no; there wouldn’t be
no sport in that.”

Jim held out his hand. “Look here, Smiley-face,” he said. “You seem to be
pulling my leg, but I rather like you. Let’s be friends.”

The man drew back. “Well, I don’t ’xactly ’old with friends, sir. Friends
laughs at friends.”

Nevertheless, he grasped the proffered hand.

“Nonsense,” Jim replied. “Friends are people who stand by one another
through thick and thin. Friends are people who have something in common
which they both defend. You and I have something in common, Smiley-face.”

“And what be that?” the man asked.

“Why,” laughed Jim, “we’re both up against it. We’re both failures in
life, tramps by nature. As you say, we both _know_.”

Smiley-face stared at him, not altogether understanding his words.

“You’d better come across the garden with me now,” said Jim.

The poacher shook his head. “No, sir, I reckon I’ll bide ’ere, and go
back through the woods.”

“But Pegett’s there with his gun.”

Smiley-face grinned. “’E’ll not get I, never you fear!”

Jim turned and walked towards the gate; and presently his friend the
poacher moved stealthily away into the gathering dusk, and soon was lost
amongst the trees.



Chapter X: THE END OF THE TETHER


“It must be my laziness,” Jim muttered to himself, as he came meandering
down the lane after a long rambling walk around Ot Moor, and through the
woods on the far side. It was spring once more, and the third anniversary
of his marriage had gone by.

His remark was made in answer to his reiterated question as to why he had
not sooner broken away. He heartily disliked any kind of “scene,” and,
being a fatalist, he had preferred to “let things rip,” as he termed it,
than to make a bid for that freedom which he had so recklessly abandoned.
It was true that he had gone up to London more frequently of late; but
any longer absences from home had caused such an intolerable display
either of temper or of feminine jobbery on Dolly’s part that Jim had
found the game hardly worth the candle.

She had no great reason to be jealous of her husband, for he was not a
man who gave much thought to women. But she was violently jealous of
her position as his wife; and anything which suggested that Jim was not
dependent on her for companionship, or had any sort of existence in which
she played no part, aroused her pique and led her to assert herself
with a horrible sort of assurance. Men and women are capable of many
inelegances; but there is nothing within the masculine range so gross as
a silly woman’s view of wedlock.

Jim, as he trudged home between the budding hedges of the lane, and heard
the call of the spring reverberating through his deadened heart, wished
fervently that he had never inherited his uncle’s estate. The afternoon
was warm, and the power of the sun, considering the time of the year, was
remarkable. It beat into his eyes, and its brilliance seemed to penetrate
into his brain, compelling him to rouse himself from his shadowed
inaction, and to look about him.

He had been a total failure as a married man, and as a Squire his
success had been negligible. His only real friend was Smiley-face,
and, though they had little to say to one another, there was always an
unspoken understanding between them. Real friendship is occasioned by
a mutual sympathy which penetrates through that external skin whereon
the artificialities of civilization are stamped, and reaches the heart
within, where dwell the reason behind reason, the intelligence beyond
intellect, and the clear “Yes” which masters the brain’s insistent “No.”
Jim and the poacher understood one another; and on the part of the latter
this understanding was supplemented by gratitude, for it chanced that
Jim had saved him on one occasion from arrest and imprisonment. The
circumstances need not here be related, and indeed they would not be
pleasant to recall; for Smiley-face had thieved, and Jim had lied to save
him, and the whole affair was highly prejudicial to law and public safety.

Often, when he was bored, he would go down into the woods and utter a
low whistle, like the hoot of an owl, which had become his recognized
signal for calling Smiley-face; and together they would prowl about,
sometimes even poaching on other property beyond the lane which curved
around the manor estate. This whistle had been heard more than once by
villagers walking in the lane, and the story had gone about that the
place was haunted, a rumour which Jim encouraged, since it deterred the
ever-nervous Dolly from following him into its shadowed depths.

Besides this disreputable friendship, there was little comradeship
for him in Eversfield. A few of the villagers liked him he believed,
especially the children; but the majority of the inhabitants
misunderstood him, and there were those who regarded him with marked
hostility. The gipsies who camped on Ot Moor, however, found in him a
valuable friend; and the tramps and wandering beggars who visited these
parts never went empty from his door.

Presently, as he rounded a corner, he encountered one of those who
disliked him in the person of Mrs. Spooner, the doctor’s wife, who was
riding towards him on her bicycle. Dazzled by the sun in his eyes, he
stepped to one side—the wrong side, to give her room, but unfortunately
she turned in the same direction and only avoided a collision by applying
her brakes with vigour and alighting awkwardly in the rough grass at the
roadside.

“I’m awfully sorry,” said Jim, raising his hat.

She was a fiery, sandy-haired little woman, who always reminded him of
an Irish terrier; and her weather-beaten face was wrinkled with anger as
she answered him. “_I_ was on my proper side,” she barked; “but I don’t
suppose it has ever occurred to you that there is such a thing as the
Rule of the Road.”

Jim was taken aback. “I’m awfully sorry,” he repeated. “I’m afraid I’ve
made you angry.”

“Angry!” she snapped. “It’s no good being angry with you; it makes no
impression. And, besides, a doctor’s wife has to learn to keep her
temper. And then, again, you’re my landlord, and one mustn’t quarrel with
one’s landlord.”

“Am I a bad landlord?” he asked.

“Well, you’re not exactly attentive,” she snarled, showing her teeth.
“But then you don’t seem to understand English ways. You haven’t much
idea of obligation, have you? When those little girls of yours were ill
you ignored my husband and sent for an Oxford doctor. That was hardly
polite, was it?”

“Oh, _that’s_ the trouble, is it?” said Jim. “I say, I’m awfully
sorry....”

She interrupted him with a gesture. “No, that’s only an example of the
sort of thing you do. It’s your behavior in general we all object to. You
haven’t got a friend in the place, except the village idiot.”

“You mean Smiley-face?” he queried.

“Yes,” she replied, still allowing her anger to give rein to her tongue.
“Smiley-face, the thief and poacher. _He_ loves you dearly: he nearly
knifed Ted Barnes the other day for saying what he thought of you. I
congratulate you on your champion!”

“Now, what have I done to Ted Barnes?” Jim asked. Ted was the postman.

“That wretched little Dachs of yours bit him,” she replied, “and you
didn’t so much as inquire.”

“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Jim. “And, anyway, it’s my wife’s
dog, not mine.”

“Oh, blame it on to your wife,” she sniffed. “It seems to me that the
poor dear soul has to take the blame for everything. It’s very unfair on
her.”

This was staggering, and Jim stared at her with mingled anger and
astonishment in his dark eyes. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, we can all guess what she suffers,” she said. “Only last week she
nearly cried in my house.... Oh, you needn’t think she gave away any
secrets, the poor little angel. She said herself ‘a wife must make no
complaints.’ She’s the soul of loyalty. But we’re not blind, Mr. West.”

Jim scratched his head. “And all this because I nearly collided with your
bicycle!” he mused.

Mrs. Spooner pulled herself together. “It’s the last straw that breaks
the camel’s back,” she growled. “But I suppose I’m putting my foot into
it as usual. I’ll say no more.” And therewith she mounted her bicycle and
rode off with her nose in the air. Had she possessed a tail it would have
appeared as an excited stump, sticking out from behind the saddle, and
vibrating with the thrill of battle.

Jim walked homewards feeling as though he had been bitten in several
places. “What _is_ wrong with me?” he muttered aloud. He was, of
course, aware that he had not been sociable; for the rank and fashion
of Eversfield and its neighbourhood combined the dreary conservatism of
English country life with the intellectual affectations of Oxford; and
Oxford, as the Master of Balliol once said, represented “the despotism of
the superannuated, tempered by the epigrams of the very young.” But he
had always thought that he had something in common with Ted Barnes and
his friends; for he had overlooked the fact that village opinion is still
dictated in England by the “gentry.”

The realization was presently borne in on him that Dolly, failing to
play with any success the part of the indispensable wife and helpmate,
had assumed the rôle of martyr, and had confided her fictitious sorrows
to her neighbours. It was a bitter thought; and he slashed at the hedges
with his stick as it took hold of his mind.

He determined to tax her with this new delinquency at once; but when
he reached the manor he found her sitting in the drawing-room with Mr.
Merrivall, the tenant of Rose Cottage, who was lying back in an armchair,
smoking a fat cigar which Dolly had evidently fetched for him from the
cabinet in the study.

George Merrivall was a mysterious bachelor of middle age, whom Jim could
not fathom. He had a heavy, grey face; a weak mouth; round, fish-like
eyes, which looked anywhere but at the person before him; and thin brown
hair, smoothed carefully across a central area of baldness. He had lived
at Rose Cottage for the last ten years or more, and was in receipt of a
monthly cheque, which might be interpreted as coming from some person or
persons who desired his continued rustication.

There was nothing against him, however, save that after the receipt of
each of the cheques he was said to shut himself up in his cottage for
a few days, and the belief was general that at such times he was dead
drunk. This, however, might be merely gossip; and his housekeeper, Jane
Potts, was a woman of such extremely secretive habits that the truth was
not likely to be known. Some people thought that she was, or had been,
his mistress; but if this were true this secret, likewise, was well
kept. He appeared to be a man of studious habits, a judge of pictures, a
collector of rare books, and a regular church-goer.

Dolly had made his acquaintance before she had met Jim, and, since their
marriage, he had been one of the few frequent visitors at the manor. Jim,
however, did not like him or trust him, thinking him, indeed, somewhat
uncanny; and he now greeted him with no enthusiasm.

“Hullo, Squire,” drawled the visitor, without rising from his chair.
“Been out tramping as usual? You look as though you’d been sleeping under
a hedge!”

“James, dear,” said Dolly, “you really do look very untidy. And you’re
all covered over with bits of twigs and things.”

“Yes,” said Jim, wishing to shock. “I’ve been having a roll in the grass.”

Merrivall laughed. “Who with, you young rascal?” he said, pointing at him
with the wet, chewed end of his cigar.

Dolly drew in her breath quickly, and stared with round eyes at her
friend, and then with a suspicious frown at her husband. “Where have you
been?” she asked deliberately.

“Oh, nowhere in particular,” he answered. “Have a drink, Merrivall?”

“Thanks,” the other replied. “Whisky and water for me.”

Jim rang the bell; and presently, excusing himself by saying that he must
change his clothes, left the room.

Now, anyone who had seen him, five minutes later, as he walked across
the garden, would have thought him entirely mad; for he was carrying his
guitar across his shoulder, drum uppermost, and his stealthy step might
have suggested that he was about to use it as a weapon with which to bash
in the head of some lurking enemy.

Actually, however, he was in the habit of strumming upon this instrument
when his nerves were on edge; and, indeed, there was a melancholy charm
in his playing, and a still greater in his singing. But to-day his desire
thus to relieve his feelings was accompanied by an anxiety not to be
overheard by his wife or Merrivall. Moreover, the twilight outside was as
warm and mellow as a summer evening, whereas the interior of the manor
was grey and dismal. He had therefore indulged an impulse, and was now
slinking off, like a sick dog, to his beloved woods to bay to the rising
moon.

Passing through the gates at the end of the lower garden, where the
hedges of gorse in full flower formed a golden mass, he entered the
silent shadow of the trees; and for some distance he pushed forward
between the close-growing trunks until he had reached a favourite resort
of his, where there was a fallen oak spanning a little stream. Here,
through a cleft in the trees, he could see the moon, nearly at its full,
rising out of the violet haze of the evening; and as he sat down, with
his legs dangling above the murmuring water, he listened in silence to
the last notes of a thrush’s nesting-song that presently died away into
the hush of contented rest.

Around him the silent oaks were arrayed, their boughs extending outwards
and upwards from the gnarled trunks in fantastic shapes, like huge claws
and fingers and probosces, feeling for the departed sunlight. Little
leaves were just beginning to appear upon the branches, and here and
there beneath them, where the ground was free of undergrowth, bluebells
and violets appeared amongst the dead bracken and foliage of last year,
and the small white wood-anemones like stars were scattered in profusion.
The primroses were nearly over, but bracken shoots, curled like young
ferns, were pushing up through the brown remnants of a former generation;
low-growing creepers and brambles were sprouting into greenness; and the
moss and grasses were tender with new life.

Jim’s mood was melancholy, but not sorrowful. It seemed to him that his
heart was dead, crushed flat by the flabby hand of that leering figure
which personified domestic life, and responded not to the spring. He was
so appallingly lonely that if there had been tears within him they now
would have overflowed; but there were not. He had no self-pity, no desire
to confide his misery to another, no power, it seemed, either to laugh at
himself or to weep.

For three long years he had carried his distress about with him all day
long, had gone for lonely walks with it, had sat at home with it, had
slept with it, had wakened with it. At first he had obtained relief from
within: he had fallen back on his own mind’s great reserves of inward
entertainment. But now he was no longer self-sufficient, self-supporting.
He was utterly barren: without emotion, without love, without the power
to write his beloved verses, without a heart, without even despair. He
had always been capable of feeling sorrow for, and sympathy with, the
griefs of others: he wished now to God that he could lament over his own;
but even lamentation was denied him.

Presently, taking up his guitar, he began to sing the first song that
came to his head. It was an old Italian refrain to which he had set his
own words; and so softly did the strings vibrate under his practised
fingers, so sorrowful was his rich voice, that a listener might have
imagined him to be a lovelorn minstrel of Florence in the forests of
Fiesole. Yet there was no love in his heart.

He sang next a melancholy negro dirge, and, after a long silence,
followed on with his own setting of those lines from Shelley’s _Ode to
the West Wind_, which tell of one who, looking down into the blue waters
of the bay of Baiæ, saw

      ... Old palaces and towers
    Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,
    All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers
    So sweet, the sense faints picturing them.

As he sang there rose before his inward eye a vision of the sun-bathed
lands through which he had wandered so happily in the past. He saw again
the white houses reflected in the still waters of Mediterranean, the
olive-groves passing up the hillsides, the hot roads leading through the
red-roofed villages, and the dark-skinned peasants driving their goats
along the mountain tracks. He saw the lights of the city of Alexandria
twinkling across the bay, and heard the surge of the breakers beating
on the rocks. And then, quietly and vaguely, out of the picture there
came the serene, mysterious face of a woman, a face he had thought
forgotten. Her black hair drifted back into his recollection, her grey
eyes seemed to gaze into his, and in his inward ear the one word “Monimé”
reverberated like an echo of a dream. And suddenly a door seemed to
open within him, and with an overwhelming onset, his captive emotions,
his feelings, his long-forgotten joys and sorrows, broke out from their
prison and surged through him.

He laid his guitar aside, and for a while sat wrapt in a kind of ecstasy.
It was as though he had risen from the grave: it was as though his heart
had come back to life within him.

He scrambled to his feet and stood for a moment, staring up at the moon,
his fists clenched and drumming upon his breast. Then, to his amazement,
he felt his eyes filled with tears—tears which he had not shed since he
was a small boy. He uttered a laugh of embarrassment, but it broke in his
throat, and all the cynic in him collapsed.

Throwing himself upon the ground, he spread his arms out before him and
buried his face in the young violets. He did not care now how foolish nor
how unmanly his emotion might seem to be. Here, in the woods, he was
alone, and only the understanding earth should receive his tears.

For some time he lay thus upon his face; but at length the paroxysms
passed. He raised his head, and as he did so he became aware,
intuitively, that he was being watched.

“Who’s there?” he exclaimed, staring into the surrounding undergrowth.

There was a crackling of twigs, and a moment later Smiley-face emerged
into the moonlight, and stood before him, touching his forelock.

Jim clambered to his feet. “What the hell are you doing here?” he asked,
angrily. He was ashamed that he had been observed, and the colour mounted
threateningly into his face.

The poacher grinned. “Beg pardon, sir,” he said. “I heerd you singin’,
and I came to listen. And then I saw you was in trouble, and....” He took
a crouched step forward, his face puckered up, and his hands twitching.
“Oh, sir, my dear, what be the matter? Tell I, sir, tell I!” His voice
was passionately insistent. “Tell I! Don’t keep it from your friend.
Friends stick to one another through thick and thin—you said it yourself,
sir: them’s your werry words, what you said when we shook ’ands. I’d
do anything in the world for you, sir, I would, so ’elp me God! I’m a
poacher, and maybe I’m a thief, too, like you said; but s’elp me, I
can’t see you a’weeping there with your face in the ground—I can’t see
that, and not say nothin’. Tell I, my dear!-tell your friend. If it’s
that you’ve lost all your money, I’ll work for you, sir. I don’t want no
wages. If it’s your enemies, say the word and I’ll kill ’em, I will. I’d
swing for you, and gladly, too.”

Jim stared at him in amazement. The words poured from the man’s lips
in such a torrent that there could be no question of their boiling
sincerity. “Why, Smiley-face,” he said at length, “what makes you feel
like that about me? I don’t deserve it.”

Smiley-face laughed aloud. “When I makes a friend,” he replied, “I makes
a friend. You done things for I what I can’t tell you of. You’re the
first man as ever treated I fair; and now you’re breaking your ’eart, and
you’re letting it break and not tellin’ nobody. Tell I, sir, tell I, my
dear, I’m askin’ you, please.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” smiled Jim, putting his hand on his friend’s
tattered shoulder. “It’s only that people like you and me are failures in
life. We don’t seem to fit in with English ways. I suppose I got thinking
too much about other lands, about the old roads, and the sea, and the
desert, and all that sort of thing. But you wouldn’t understand: you’ve
never been far away from Eversfield, have you?”

He sat down and motioned Smiley-face to do likewise.

“Tell I about them places, sir,” said the poacher, “like what you sings
about.” Instinctively, and without reasoning, he knew that a long
talk was the best remedy for his friend; and gradually, by careful
questioning, he launched him forth upon distant seas, and led him to
speak of countries far away from the catalepsy of his present existence.

Jim spoke of the winding roads which lead up to the hills of Ceylon,
where the ground is covered with little crimson blossoms of the
Laritana, and where the peacocks, sitting in rows by the wayside, utter
their wild cries as the bullock-bandies go lurching by, and the monkeys
swing from tree to tree, chattering at the travellers. He spoke of the
Aroe Islands, where, once a year, the pearl merchants are gathered; and
he pictured in words the scene at night on the still waters when every
kind of craft is afloat, and every kind of lantern sways under the stars
in the warm breath of the wind.

Thence his memory leapt over the seas to the southern coasts of Italy,
where, upon a hot summer’s night, the little harbour of Brindisi was gay
with lanterns in like manner, and the sound of mandolins floated across
the water; while the narrow streets were thronged with townspeople taking
the air after the heat of the day. Later, he wandered to the slopes of
Lebanon, where clear rivulets rush down from the hills, through thickets
of oleander, and tumble at last into the blue Mediterranean. He spoke of
mulberry orchards, and open tracts covered with a bewildering maze of
flowers and flowering bushes: poppies, broom, speedwell, lupin, and many
another, so that the hillsides, overhanging the sea, are dazzling to the
eyes.

And so he came to Egypt and the desert, and told of the jackal-tracks
which lead back from the Nile into the barren, mysterious hills, where
a man may lose himself and die of thirst within a mile or two of hidden
wells; where the mirage rises like a lake from the parched sand, and
lures the thirsty traveller to his doom; and where the vultures circle
in the blue heavens, waiting for the men and the camels who fall and lie
still.

For a long time he sat talking thus, while the moon rose above the trees;
but at length the chill of the air reminded him that he ought to be
returning to the manor, and, picking up his guitar, he rose to his feet.
Smiley-face, however, did not move. He was staring in front of him, his
two hands thrust into the grass.

“Come along,” said Jim. “I must go back to the house now.”

The poacher looked up at him with a curious expression upon his face.
“Reckon you baint agoin’ to tell I what your trouble is, sir,” he smiled.

Jim shook his head. “No,” he answered. “I can’t talk about it, somehow.
But I’ll tell you this, Smiley-face: if I ever do talk to anybody about
it all it’ll be to you.”

When he reached the manor, Jim found that he was late for dinner; and at
the foot of the stairs he was confronted by Dolly, who was much annoyed
at seeing him still in his day clothes.

“Oh, James!” she exclaimed, angrily. “Where _have_ you been? Dinner has
already been kept back a quarter of an hour for you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m quite impossible. Don’t wait for
me: I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Don’t hurry,” she replied, icily. “Mr. Merrivall is going to dine with
us. I shan’t be lonely.”



Chapter XI: THE DEPARTURE


For three years, for three interminable years, Jim had borne the
stagnation of his married life at Eversfield, the door of his heart
shut against the whispering voices which bade him turn his back on his
heritage and come out into the free world once more. But now matters
had reached a psychological crisis. Something had happened to him;
something had opened the door again. And as he sat in his room that night
these voices seemed to assail him from all sides, enticing him to leave
England, coaxing him, wheedling him, jeering at him for his lack of
enterprise, and persuading him with the pictured delights of other lands.

“Give it up!” they murmured. “You were never meant for this sort of
thing: you can never find happiness here. Think of the sound of the
sea as it slaps the bow of the outbound liner; think of the throb of
the screw; think of the noisy boatloads surrounding the ship when the
anchor has rattled into the transparent water of a southern harbour;
the familiar sound and smells of hot little towns, sheltering under the
palms; the soft crunch of camels’ pads upon the desert sands; the far-off
cry of the jackals. Think of the unshackled life of the happy wanderer;
the freedom from the restraint of the Great Sham; the absence of these
posings and pretences of so-called respectability. Give it up, you fool;
and take your lazy body over the hills and far away: for your lost
content awaits you beyond the horizon, and it will never come back to you
in this stagnant valley.”

Until late in the night he allowed his thoughts to wander in forbidden
places, and when at last he sought comfort in sleep, his dreams were full
of far-away things and alluring scenes. In the early morning he lay awake
for an hour before it was time to take his bath; and through the open
window the sound of the chimes from the distant spires of Oxford floated
into the room.

“Confound those blasted bells!” he cried, suddenly springing from his
bed. “They have drugged me long enough. To-day I am awake: I shall sleep
no more!”

Of a sudden he formed a resolution. He would go away alone for two or
three months, in spite of any protest which his wife might make. And not
only would he take this single holiday: he would lay his plans so that
there should be another scheme of existence to which, in the future, he
could retire whenever his home became unbearable. His uncle had led a
double life: he, too, would do so; not, however, in the company of any
Emily, but in the far more alluring society of that Lady called Liberty.
James Tundering-West, Squire of Eversfield, from henceforth should be
subject to perennial eclipses, and at such times Jim Easton, vagrant,
should be resuscitated.

He would sell out a couple of thousand pounds’ worth of stock, and
generously place it as a first instalment to the credit of Jim Easton in
another part of the world; and nobody but himself should know about it.
For the last three years he had lived mainly on his rent-roll, and this
should remain the means of subsistence of his wife, and of himself so
long as he was in England. But the bulk of the remainder of his fortune
left of late almost untouched, should gradually be transferred, little by
little, to the credit of the wanderer.

At breakfast he was so enthralled with his scheme that he paid no
attention whatsoever to Dolly’s offended silence. He told her that he was
going to London for a few days, and that very possibly he would there
make arrangements to go abroad for a holiday.

“As you please,” she replied, coldly. “I, too, need a change; but I can’t
play the deserter. I must stay here, and try to do my duty.”

Driving into Oxford he turned the matter over in his mind unceasingly,
and in the train he thought of little else, nor so much as glanced at
the newspapers he had brought. The difficulty was to think out a means
whereby he could now place this capital sum to the account of Jim Easton,
and later add to it, without using his cheque book or any bank notes
which could be traced; for all the salt would be gone out of the proposed
enterprise if his recurrent change of personality were open to detection.
He wanted to be able to say to Dolly each year: “I am going away, and I
shall be back about such-and-such a date, until then I shall not be able
to be found, nor troubled in any way by the exigencies of domestic life.”

At length, as he reached the hotel where he was going to stay, the
simple solution came to him; and so eager was he to put the plan into
execution that he was off upon the business so soon as he had deposited
his dressing-case in the bedroom. In South Africa he had become an expert
in the valuation of diamonds, and now he proposed to put this knowledge
to use. He knew the addresses of two or three dealers who supplied the
trade with unset stones; and to these he made his way, with the result
that during the afternoon he had selected some twenty small diamonds
which were to be held for him until his cheques should be forthcoming.

The business was resumed next day; and by the following evening he had
depleted his capital by two thousand pounds, and in its place he held
a little boxful of diamonds which, so far as he could tell, were worth
considerably more than he had paid for them. These stones he proposed to
sell again, practically one by one, in various foreign cities, depositing
the proceeds in the name of Jim Easton at some bank, say in Rome; and, as
all the jewels were of inconspicuous size and small value, his dealings
would not be able to be traced beyond the original purchases in London,
even if so far as that.

Before returning to Oxford he decided to pay a call on Mrs. Darling
to invite her to go down to stay at Eversfield during his absence. He
regarded her as a capable, good-natured, and entirely unprincipled
woman; and she had invariably shown him that at any rate she liked him,
if she were not always proud of him. As a mother-in-law she had been
extraordinarily circumspect, and, in fact, she had effaced herself to
a quite unnecessary extent, seldom coming to stay at the manor, but
preferring to pass most of her time at her little flat in London.

She was at home when he called, and greeted him with affection,
good-temperedly scolding him for not writing to her more often.

“You might have peaceably passed away, for all I knew,” she said.

Jim smiled. “Oh, I think Dolly would have mentioned it, if I had,” he
replied. He gazed around the room: it was always a source of profound
astonishment to him. The walls were silver-papered, the woodwork was
scarlet, the furniture was of red lacquer, the carpet was grey, and the
chairs and sofa were upholstered in grey silk, ornamented with much
silver fringe and many tassels of silver and scarlet. Upon the walls were
a dozen Bakst-like paintings of women displaying bits of their remarkable
anatomy through unnecessary apertures in their tawdry garments; and as
Jim stared at them he was devoutly thankful that Mrs. Darling had not
robed herself in like manner.

She followed the direction of his gaze. “Hideous, aren’t they?” she said.

“They are, rather,” he replied. “Why do you have them?”

“Well, you see,” she answered, “so many milliners and dressmakers come to
see me in connection with my monthly fashion articles; and they would of
course think nothing of my taste if I had any really nice pictures on my
walls.”

She dived behind the sofa and rose again with her hands full of a medley
of startling nightgowns.

“Look at these!” she laughed. “They were left here for me to criticise
by a shop which calls itself ‘Frocks, Follies, and Fragrance.’ Horrible,
aren’t they? The only nice thing about them is their exquisite material.
I always say to all young married women: ‘Flannel nightgowns may keep
_you_ warm, but _crêpe-de-Chine_ will keep your husband.”

Jim stared at the wildly coloured garments long and thoughtfully. “I
sometimes think,” he said at length, “that women have no sense of humour.”

“No more has Nature,” she replied. “Look at the camel.” She changed the
conversation. “Tell me,” she said, “how is Dolly?”

“Top hole, thanks,” he replied.

“I notice,” Mrs. Darling remarked, as they sat down together on the big
sofa, “that you don’t bring her to Town with you nowadays. I hope you’re
not leading a double life?”

“No,” he answered.

“That’s right,” she said. “That’s a good boy! Have you taken to drink
yet?”

Jim laughed. “No, why should I?”

“Most married men do,” she told him. “My own husband did. He never really
showed it; but I’ve seen him get up the morning after, turn on a cold
bath, drink it, and go to bed again.”

“Well, as a matter of fact,” said Jim, “I _am_ thinking of breaking loose
for a bit. That’s really what I’ve come to see you about. I want your
advice.”

“Advice! Advice from _me_?” she exclaimed. “Why, my dear boy, my advice
on domestic affairs would be worth about as much as the figure 0 without
its circumference-line.”

“Well, not your advice exactly, but your help. The fact is, I want to get
away. I’ve grown flat and stale down at Eversfield, and I think Dolly
finds me rather a bore sometimes. I have an idea that it would do us both
a lot of good if I were to go off for a bit by myself.”

Mrs. Darling looked anxiously at him, and her jesting manner left her for
a moment. “I hope nothing has gone wrong between you?” she said earnestly.

Jim hastened to assure her. “Oh, no, everything is quite all right.”

“I’m sure I hope so,” she replied. “But I know Dolly is rather exacting.”

“It’s my own fault,” he remarked, quickly. “I must be quite impossible as
a husband.”

Mrs. Darling uttered an exclamation of distress. “Oh, then there _is_
something wrong?” she said. “I thought so, from the tone of her letters.”

Jim was embarrassed. “No, I only want to get away because I’m not very
well, and also because I want to polish up some old verses of mine.”

She looked at him earnestly. “My dear boy,” she said, “if you’ve lost
your trousers, it’s no good putting on two coats. If you’re unhappy at
home, it’s no good kidding yourself with other reasons for getting away.”

“I assure you ...” Jim began.

She interrupted him. “Come on, now—what d’you want me to do? D’you want
me to persuade Dolly to let you go?”

He shook his head. “No,” he answered. “I am going anyhow. What I want
you to do is to keep an eye on her while I’m gone. Take her away for a
holiday, if you like: I’ll gladly pay all expenses. Keep her amused.”

“How long to you intend to be away?” she asked.

“Oh, a couple of months or so,” he replied. “I don’t exactly know....”

She turned to him, searchingly. “Is it another woman?”

“No, no,” he laughed. “I dislike women intensely.”

“Thank you!” she smiled. “On behalf of my daughter and myself, thank
you!” She was silent for a while. “I wonder why you ever married?” she
said, at length.

“We all have our romances,” he answered.

“Romances!” She uttered the word with bitterness. “What is romance?
Just Nature’s fig-leaf. It is something that Youth employs to disguise
something else. Youth is a calamity. I really sometimes thank Heaven
for middle age and old age: they bring one at any rate the blessing of
indifference. I’m thankful that I’m an old woman.”

“You’re not old,” Jim replied. “You don’t look forty. And you’re in the
pink of health.”

“Yes, my dear,” she said. “I’ve nothing much to complain of in that
respect. All I want is a new pair of legs and a clean heart....”

“Oh, your heart’s all right,” he told her, putting his hand on hers.

“No,” she answered. “I’m a bad old woman. I earn a living by writing
indecently about women’s clothes, and how to wear them so as to destroy
men’s virtue. I sit about in night-clubs; I play cards on Sundays; I’ll
dine with anybody on earth who’ll give me a good dinner and a bottle of
wine; and I never go to church. What d’you think Eversfield would say to
that?”

“Oh, Eversfield be hanged,” he replied, with feeling. “You’re a good
sort, and you’re kind. That’s better than all the rotten respectability
of Eversfield.”

“I’m not so sure,” she said. “Respectability has its merits. You go and
spend a few weeks with the sort of people I mix with, and you’ll find
Miss Proudfoote of the Grange like a breath of fresh air.”

“I’m sure I shouldn’t,” Jim answered with conviction.

She shrugged her shoulders, and presently their conversation turned in
other directions.

When at length he rose to go, he startled her by remarking that he would
not see her again until his return from his travels; and to her surprised
question he replied that he was going down to Oxford next morning, and
that on the following day he would set out on his wanderings.

She looked anxiously at him once more. “There isn’t any real quarrel
between you and Dolly, is there?” she asked again.

He reassured her. “No, none at all. It’s only that I have a craving for
Italy....”

“Well,” she said, “if you live in a thatched house, don’t start letting
off Roman candles.”

“What d’you mean?” he laughed.

“I mean,” she replied. “ ... Oh, never mind what I mean. Don’t go the
pace, and don’t stay away too long; or there’ll be trouble. Don’t forget
that you’ve got a tradition to keep going. Don’t forget your uncle’s
tombstone. What does it say?—‘A man who nobly upheld the traditions of
his race....’”

“Yes, isn’t it rot?” he answered. “Do you know I came across some of his
letters, and I can tell you his respectability was only skin-deep. All
his life he lived a lie, and now he lies in his grave, and his epitaph
lies above him.”

She took his proffered hand in hers and held it for a moment. “Jim,
my boy,” she said, “I’m only a wicked old woman; but I’ve got a great
respect for virtue, even when it’s only skin-deep. It’s the people who
don’t care what their neighbours say who come to grief.”

When Jim returned to Oxford and broke the news of his immediate departure
to Dolly, she received it with a calmness which he had not expected. He
had anticipated a painful scene, and he was even a little disappointed
that she fell in so readily with his plans.

“Yes,” she said. “If you’ve made up your mind to go, it’s no good hanging
about here. You’ve been finding rather a lot of fault with me lately.
Perhaps when you are alone you will appreciate all I’ve done for you.”

“Of course I shall, dear,” he replied.

Quietly, and in a very business-like manner, she asked him what
arrangements he had made about the money she was to draw; and this being
settled to her satisfaction she approached, with apparent diffidence, a
more important subject.

“I do hope you aren’t going to any dangerous places,” she said. “You
mustn’t take any risks.”

He assured her that he had no intention of doing so.

“But supposing anything happened to you,” she went on, “what would become
of me?”

“I’ll make my will, if you like,” he laughed.

She uttered a gasp of horror. “What a dreadful thought!” she murmured.
She was silent for a few moments, her eyes gazing out of the window, her
mouth a little open. Then, without looking at him, she said: “I suppose
just a line on a sheet of paper will do? You only have to say that you
leave everything to me ... at least I take it that there’s nobody else to
leave it to?” She turned to him with an innocent smile.

“Oh, no, it’s all yours if I die,” he replied.

“Well, you’d better do it now before you forget,” she said, smiling at
him and patting his hand. She pointed to the writing-bureau in the corner
of the room. “You just scribble it on a half-sheet, and seal it up, and
write on the envelope ‘to be opened in the event of my death,’ and post
it to your solicitors. That’s all.”

“You seem to have thought it all out,” he laughed, going to the bureau.

“Oh, James!” she exclaimed, reproachfully. “What dreadful things you do
say!”

His departure on the following morning was unceremonious. In spite of
Dolly’s anxieties in regard to his safety, the fact remained that he
was only going away for a couple of months or thereabouts. He was to
take but a single portmanteau with him; his precious diamonds were to be
carried in a knotted handkerchief in his pocket; and in his hand he would
hold only a stout walking-stick. The only persons who appeared to be
concerned at his going were the two little girls; and even they—as is the
habit of children—returned to their play before the carriage had left the
door.

Dolly had said she would drive with him into Oxford to see him off in the
train; but, as he was to depart at an early hour, she was not dressed
in time, and was therefore obliged to bid him “good-bye” at the foot
of the stairs. She looked a pretty little creature, standing there in
a pink dressing-gown, with the morning sunlight striking upon her fair
hair, which fell around her shoulders, as though she had been disturbed
in the act of combing it, and with a background of the dark portraits of
previous owners of the manor. In her hand she was carrying a large bunch
of apple-blossom, which she accounted for by saying that she had just
been picking it from outside her bedroom window at the moment when he
called out to her. Knowing her habit of studying effects, Jim felt sure
that she had thought out this charming picture, and had never had any
intention of accompanying him to the station; nor had he the heart to ask
her why, if she had but now plucked the blossom from the tree, the stems
should be dripping with water as though just lifted from a vase.

“Every picture tells a story,” he muttered to himself as he drove away,
“and some tell downright lies.”



Chapter XII: THE ESCAPE


On his arrival in Paris, his sensations were not far removed from bliss;
but soon he was obliged to set about the tedious business of selling
his diamonds, one by one, in a manner so unobtrusive and anonymous
that no particular notice should be paid to the deals. He was somewhat
disappointed to find that, in spite of his expert knowledge both of
the stones and of the channels for their disposal, he failed to avoid
a slight loss on the various transactions; but he was in no mood to
bargain, and he was well content, at the end of the second day, to be
rid of a quarter of his collection, and to feel the notes, which were to
be the support of his future wanderings, pleasantly bulging out of his
pocket-book.

From Paris he proceeded to Lyons, Marseilles, and Monte Carlo, in which
places he disposed of the remainder of his collection, this time at a
small profit. During these business transactions he felt that he was
generally regarded as a thief, and more than once his experiences were
unpleasant; but he was so full of the idea of hiding his tracks, and
of building up once more the old life of freedom beyond the range of
Dolly’s prying eyes, that he adopted, without any regard to his natural
sensitiveness, all manner of subterfuges and variations of name.

At length, with quite an unwieldy packet of small notes, he made his way
along the coast, crossed the frontier, being still under his real name,
and stopped at Savona, Genoa, and Spezia, where he laboriously changed
the money, little by little, into Italian currency. He then proceeded
by way of Pisa to Rome, where, with a sense of almost schoolboyish
exultation, he deposited his vagrant’s fortune at a well-known bank, and
opened an account in the name of “James Easton.” This accomplished, he
felt that he had taken the first firm step in his emancipation; for in
future, whenever Eversfield became unbearable, he could speed over to
Rome, even for but a month at a time, and, moving eastwards or southwards
from this base, under the name by which he had formerly been known,
he would always find money at his disposal, and complete freedom from
domestic obligations.

He had now been gone from England some fourteen days, but Rome was the
first place at which he had assumed this other name, for he intended
Italy to be the western frontier of the vagrant’s life. The change
of name meant far more to him than can easily be realized: it had a
psychological effect upon his mind, such as, in a lesser degree, can
sometimes be produced by a complete change of clothes. He almost hoped
that he would be recognized and hailed by some acquaintance from England
in order that he might look him deliberately in the face and say: “I am
afraid you have made a mistake. _My_ name is Easton: I come from Egypt.”

Having assumed this alias his first object was to recapture the old
beloved sense of liberty by resuming his wandering existence, and by
turning his back upon the elegances of life. Under the name of Easton,
therefore, he at once selected a small inn in the democratic Trastevere
quarter, near the Ponte Sisto, which had been recommended to him as
the resort of commercial travellers and the like who desired a little
cleanliness in conjunction with moderate honesty and extreme low prices;
and having here deposited his portmanteau and engaged a room for a
fortnight hence, he went at once to the railway station with nothing but
a knapsack and a walking-stick in his hand and took the long journey back
to Pisa, his intention being to wander southwards from that point along
the beautiful coast, where the pine-woods came down to the seashore.

During the years at Eversfield his emotions had dried up, and he had
become barren of all exalted thoughts. He was, as he expressed it to
himself, continuously “off the boil.” But now once more his brain was
galvanized, and all his actions were intensified, speeded up, and
ebullient. His power of enjoyment, lost so long, had come back to him,
and now not infrequently he was blessed with that fine frenzy which had
left his mind unvisited these many weary months. He was a different man
to-day: again hot-blooded, again eager to listen to the lure of the
unattained, again capable of soaring, as it were, to the sun and the
stars.

Two days later there befell him an adventure which changed the whole
course of his life.

He had been walking all day through the pines and along the beach, and
in the late afternoon he inquired of a passer-by whether there were any
village in the neighbourhood where he might spend the night. The man
replied that the path by which Jim was going led to a small fishermen’s
inn, where a room and a meal were generally to be obtained, but that if
he desired to reach the next little town he would have to retrace his
steps and make a considerable detour, for, although it stood upon the
seashore only three kilometres further along, it could not be approached
by the beach, owing to the presence of a wide estuary. The day having
been extremely hot, Jim was tired, and he therefore decided to try his
luck at this house, which, the man said, was distant but ten minutes’
walk.

He found it to be a high, square, drab-washed building, which like so
many poorer houses in Italy, gave the melancholy suggestion that it had
seen better days. The red-tiled roof was in need of repair, the green
shutters were falling to pieces, and there were innumerable cracks and
small dilapidations upon its extensive areas of blank wall. The only
indications that it was an inn were a long table and a bench upon one
side of the narrow doorway, and a number of crude drawings in charcoal
upon the lower part of the front wall.

The house stood upon a mound facing the beach, and backed by the dark
pines; and at one side there was a patch of cultivated ground in which
a few vegetables were growing. A small rowing-boat, moored by a rope,
floated upon the smooth surface of the sea, and upon a group of rocks
near by two dark-skinned fishermen sat smoking cigarettes. One of
these, upon seeing Jim, put his hand to his mouth and called out to the
innkeeper, who replied from some empty-sounding part of the ground-floor,
and presently came with clamorous footsteps along the stone-flagged
passage to the door.

He was a tall, stout man, with a two-days’ growth of grey stubble
covering the lower part of his tanned face, and an untidy mat of white
hair upon his head. His forehead was deeply wrinkled, and his eyes
were screwed up as though the light hurt him. Had he changed his loose
corduroy trousers and his collarless striped shirt for the garb of his
ancestors, one would have said that the marble Sulla of the Vatican
Museum had come to life.

Jim was in two minds as to whether to spend the night in this somewhat
forbidding house, or to proceed upon his way; and he therefore asked
only for a bottle of wine, at the same time inviting his host to drink
a glass with him. The man accepted the invitation with alacrity, and,
disappearing into the echoing house, soon returned with the bottle. He
hesitated, however, before drawing the cork, and diffidently mentioned
the price, whereupon Jim put his hand in his pocket and drew forth his
loose change. The wrinkles deepened on the man’s forehead as he gazed
at the money, and an expression of disappointment passed over his face;
for the coins did not amount to the sum named. Jim, however, smilingly
reassured him, and produced his roll of notes, from which he selected
one, asking whether his host could change it. At this the man’s face
showed his satisfaction, and he hastened to uncork the bottle, thereafter
fetching the change and sitting down to enjoy the wine with every token
of brotherly love.

For some time they talked, and it was very soon apparent that the
innkeeper was of the braggart type. He had once been in the army, and
he described with great gusto his gallant exploits and feats of arms,
relating also his affairs of the heart, and telling how once he fought
a duel and killed his man for the sake of a girl who was in no wise
worthy of him. Jim listened with amusement, and presently, in answer
to his host’s questions, he explained that he himself was merely a
mild Englishman, and that he was walking from village to village along
the coast by way of a holiday. This statement was received with frank
astonishment, and led to a further series of inquiries, to which Jim
replied with amused volubility, pointing out the delights of a wandering
life, and speaking of the pleasures of a state of incognito, when hearth
and home are temporarily abandoned, and nobody knows whither one has
disappeared. The innkeeper listened with evident interest, looking at
him searchingly from time to time as he talked, and forgetting to boast
or even drink his wine, as he sat with folded arms and wrinkled brow,
staring out to sea.

The sun was setting when at length Jim rose to his feet to consider
whether he should proceed or should stay the night where he was. His legs
felt weary, however; and when his host presently made the suggestion that
he should inspect the guest-chamber upstairs, Jim was quickly persuaded
to do so, and, finding it quite habitable, at once decided to remain
until morning.

The innkeeper thereupon retired into the back premises to prepare a
meal, and Jim sauntered down to the beach to enjoy the cool of the dusk.
Climbing over the promontory of smooth, rounded rocks, to one of which
the rowing-boat was moored, he pulled the little craft towards him by its
rope, and, scrambling into it, sat for some time handling the oars and
gazing down into the water. It was very pleasant to ride here upon the
gently moving swell, listening to the quiet surge of the waves upon the
shore, and watching the fading colours of the sky; and when, in the dim
light, he saw his host appear at the doorway of the house, looking about
him for his guest, he stepped back on to the rocks with lazy reluctance.

The fare presently provided in the front room was rough but appetizing,
and when the meal was finished he returned once more to the table
outside, where he found his host seated with three other men, for whom,
after a ceremonious introduction, Jim called for another bottle of wine.
The appearance of these other guests, however, was not pleasant: they
looked, in fact, as disreputable a gang of cut-throats as ever sat round
a guttering candle; and once or twice he thought he observed upon the
innkeeper’s face an expression something like that of apology.

Nevertheless, the party remained talking, and their host continued his
bragging, far into the night, for it seemed that all of them were to
sleep at the inn; and it was midnight before Jim made his salutations and
was lighted up to his room by the owner of the house.

As soon as he was alone he went to the open window, and stared out into
the darkness. The sky was brilliant with stars which were reflected in
the sea, whose rhythmic sobbing came to his ears; but he could only
dimly discern the rocks and the little rowing-boat, and the line of the
beach was lost in the indigo of the night. For some time he stood deep in
thought; but at length, of a sudden, a feeling of apprehension entered
his mind, and, returning into the candlelight, he remained for a while
irresolute in the middle of the room.

The sensation, however, presently passed; but in order to occupy his
thoughts he drew from his pocket an unused picture-postcard, which he
had purchased on the previous day, and performed the much postponed duty
of writing a line to his wife, telling her shortly that he was well.
He addressed the card to her and laid it aside, with the intention of
posting it at some obscure village whose name upon the postmark would
convey nothing to Dolly. Then, seating himself upon the side of the bed,
he prepared to undress.

As he stooped to unlace his boots the tremor of apprehension returned to
him, and for some moments he sat perfectly still, looking at the candle,
and wondering at his unfamiliar nervousness. “I suppose,” he thought to
himself, “I have been too long in the shelter of Eversfield, and have
grown unaccustomed to the ordinary circumstances of the wanderer’s life.”

Then, like a sudden flash, the recollection came to him that the
innkeeper had seen his roll of notes, and that the man knew him to be
an unattached wayfarer, and consequently fair game for robbery or even
murder. The thought set his heart beating in a manner which shamed him;
and, though he fought against it resolutely, he permitted himself,
nevertheless, to creep over to the door and to slide the clumsy bolt into
its socket. He then felt in his pocket to assure himself that his matches
were at hand; and, having placed the candle by his bedside, he blew out
the light and prepared himself for an uncomfortable night.

For some time he lay quietly upon the bed, fully dressed, his eyes turned
to the open window, through which the brilliant stars were visible; but
at length sleep began to overcome his forebodings, so that he dozed, and
at last passed into unconsciousness.

He awoke with an instant conviction that some sound had disturbed him;
and for a moment he felt his pulses hammering as he listened intently.
The stars had moved across the heavens during his slumbers, and their
position now suggested that dawn was not far off, a fact of which he was
profoundly glad, for his mind was filled with a very definite kind of
dread, and he was eager to be up and away. Something, he was convinced,
had been going on while he slept: he could feel it, as it were, in his
bones.

He was about to light the candle when, to his extreme horror, he caught
sight of a man’s head slowly rising above the level of the window-sill
and blotting out the stars. Jim lay absolutely still, desperately
concentrating his brains to meet the situation; and as he did so the
figure outside the window, like a menacing black shadow, stealthily
raised itself until the arms and shoulders were visible, and he was able
to recognize the large proportions of the innkeeper.

The room was in complete darkness, and, realizing that he himself could
not be seen, Jim silently extended his hand until his fingers clasped
themselves around the brass candlestick at his side. His agitation gave
place to the thrill of battle, and, with a bound like that of a wild
animal, he sprang to his feet and dashed at the intruder. At the same
moment the man clambered into the room; and, an instant later, the two
were in contact.

A frenzied blow with the heavy candlestick struck the innkeeper’s
uplifted arm, and the knife which he had been carrying fell to the floor.
The man darted to recover it, whereat Jim aimed a second blow as he
stooped; but, before he could strike, the innkeeper’s left hand crashed
into his face, so that he staggered back across the room with the blood
pouring from his nose. Regaining his balance, he again rushed forward;
and before the other could raise his recovered knife the candlestick
descended upon his head, with a most satisfactory thud, and, without a
sound, the man fell in a heap upon the floor.

For a moment Jim stood over him, his improvised weapon raised to strike
again. He felt the blood streaming from his nose, and, pulling his
handkerchief from his pocket, he attempted in vain to arrest the flow,
at the same time wondering what next he should do. He could just discern
the dark outline of the figure at his feet, but there was no sign of
movement, and he wondered whether the man were dead. At the moment he
certainly hoped so.

Then, sniffing and panting, he felt for his matches and struck a light.
The candle, which had fallen from its socket, lay on the floor before
him; and this he now lit, replacing it in the brass holder which had
served him so well. Next, he glanced out of the window, and saw, as he
had expected, a ladder leaning against the wall; but, though he could now
hear voices in the house, there seemed to be no one at the foot of the
ladder, so far as the darkness permitted him to discern.

This appeared, therefore, to be the best means of escape, and, snatching
up his hat and slinging his knapsack across his shoulder, he hastened
towards the window. As he did so the figure upon the floor showed signs
of returning life, and Jim hastily stooped and picked up the man’s
ugly-looking knife, while the blood from his nose steadily dripped upon
it, upon the clothes of his unconscious assailant, and upon the bare
boards.

He was in the act of climbing over the sill when he heard voices at the
bedroom door, and saw the bolt rattle. At this he slid down the ladder
at break-neck speed, and raced through the darkness as fast as his legs
would carry him towards the beach. For a moment he hesitated upon the
soft sand, recollecting that in the one direction—the way he had come
yesterday—there was no habitation for many miles, while in the other the
estuary, of which he had been told, cut him off from the neighbouring
town.

Behind him he heard a considerable commotion in the house, and at the
lighted window of his abandoned bedroom he saw a figure appear for a
moment. The other men, then, had burst into the room, and in a few
moments they would doubtless be after him.

Suddenly he thought of the rowing-boat, and, with a gasp of relief, he
ran out on to the rocks. Here he slipped and fell, thereby losing the
innkeeper’s knife; but, with hands wet with the blood from his nose, he
clutched at the boulders, and clambered forward. A few minutes later he
had lifted the boat’s mooring-rope from the rock around which it was
fastened, and had pushed out to sea.

For some minutes he rowed at his best speed away from the land, but
presently he rested on his oars to listen to the cries and curses which
came over the water to his ears out of the darkness. His mood was now
exultant, for he had observed on the previous evening that there was
no other craft of any kind within sight, and a pull of two or three
kilometres would bring him to the neighbouring town. He was now enjoying
the adventure, for he felt that it marked the breaking of the long
monotony of his days at Eversfield and the beginning of a new and more
vivid existence, far removed from the petty incidents of English village
life. He could not resist the temptation to shout out some bantering
remark to the men upon the beach whom he could not see, and soon his
voice was sounding across the dark water, bearing impolite messages to
the innkeeper and a few choice words for themselves. Their oaths returned
to him out of the night, and set him laughing; and presently he resumed
his rowing now with a less frenzied stroke, heading towards the three or
four solitary lights which marked his destination.

And thus, as the first light of dawn appeared in the eastern sky, he
quietly beached the little boat upon the deserted shore in front of the
houses, and stepped out on to the sand. The current had been running
strongly against him, and the journey had taken him longer than he had
expected; but in the cool night air, under the glorious stars, he had
found himself thoroughly happy, and his excitement seemed but to have
added zest to his life.

A troublesome question, however, now arose in his mind as to whether
he should go at once to the police, or whether it would be wiser to
keep silent in regard to his adventure. If he reported the matter and
subsequently had to appear in the courts, the pleasant secret of his
double identity would have to be revealed. That would be the end of James
Easton, for, in the limelight which would be turned upon him, he would
be obliged to admit to his real name. On the other hand, he would dearly
like to bring the innkeeper and his confederates to justice.

He now, therefore, sat down upon the beach in the dim light of daybreak
and carefully thought the matter out in all its aspects; the result being
that at length he very reluctantly decided to hold his tongue, and, with
the first rays of the sun, to proceed upon his way.

Taking off his boots and socks, and rolling up his trousers, he went back
to the boat, and, wading into the water, pushed it out to sea with all
his strength, thereafter watching it as it slowly floated back towards
the estuary, in which direction the current was travelling. He then went
over to a cluster of rocks, behind which he would be unobserved, and
there he opened his knapsack and made his toilet, washing the crusted
blood from his face and hands and the front of his coat.

When he emerged at length, the sun had risen; and he walked into the
little town in an entirely inconspicuous manner. Here he presently
ascertained that there was a railway-station, and he observed that a
number of people were already making their way thither to catch the early
market-train. Nobody took any notice of him as he bought his ticket
and entered the compartment, for in appearance he differed little from
an ordinary Italian, and he was not called upon to speak at sufficient
length to reveal any faults in his accent. This was all to the good,
since his sole object now was to leave the neighbourhood of his adventure
in order to preserve the secret of his double life. Thus half an hour
later he was jogging along back to Pisa, and by mid-morning he was on his
way to Florence, none the worse for his adventure, and having suffered no
loss with the exception of his walking-stick, his handkerchief, a great
deal of blood, and much of his confidence in the Italian peasant.

Arrived at Florence, he engaged a room, in the name of Easton, at a small
and quiet hotel, and here he decided to remain for the next few days, and
to forget his growing indignation against the murderous innkeeper, since
no redress was possible without exposure of his carefully laid plans.
His amazement and agitation may thus be imagined when, on the following
morning, he read in his newspaper that he was believed to have been
murdered.

The account was circumstantial. A police patrol, riding along the beach
an hour before dawn, had come upon two men acting in what was described
as a suspicious manner outside the inn. Questions were being put to them
when the innkeeper appeared at a window and shouted out, asking whether
their victim had been “finished off.” This led to a search of the house,
and to the examination of the disordered and bloodstained bedroom, and
to the discovery of a walking-stick bearing the name “J. Tundering-West”
upon the silver band, a blood-soaked handkerchief marked J. T.-W., and
a postcard addressed by the victim to Mrs. Tundering-West. Thereupon
the dazed innkeeper and his friends were arrested, and it was observed
that there were spots of blood upon the clothes of the former. A further
search, after the sun had risen, had revealed bloodstains leading down to
and upon the rocks, whither the body had evidently been carried; while a
bloodstained knife, thrown aside at the edge of the water, and marks of a
struggle, indicated that the unfortunate man had here been “finished off”
before being dropped into the sea.

The arrested men had confessed to being associated with an attempted act
of violence, but swore that the intended victim had escaped in the boat,
and that one of their number, who was the only guilty party, had fled.
This, however, was a palpable lie, for the boat was later found beached
at the mouth of the estuary a short distance away, and if it had been
used at all, which was not at all certain, it must have been utilized as
a means of escape by that one of their number who had bolted.

Meanwhile, the police had ascertained that Mr. Tundering-West had been
staying at Genoa three days previously; and that an Englishman, whose
name did not appear in the hotel register, but was probably identical,
had stopped at the little Hotel Giovanni in Pisa on the nights previous
to the crime. During the day a police-launch had scoured the sea in the
neighbourhood, but the body had not been found.

Jim was dazed as he read the amazing words, and for some time thereafter
he sat staring in front of him, lost in a maze of speculation. Two
thoughts, however, stood out clearly in the confusion of his mind. In the
first place he must not allow the innkeeper to suffer the extreme penalty
for a crime which fortunately had not been committed; and in the second
place he would have to notify Dolly that he was safe.

Presently, therefore, he made his way towards a telegraph office, and
then, changing his mind, enquired his way to the police-station. He
was feverishly anxious to preserve the secret of his identity with Jim
Easton, for that name seemed to represent his freedom, and he was filled
with disappointment that all his schemes for his periodical liberty
should thus fall to pieces; yet he could not devise a means of preserving
his secret, and he hovered, irresolute, between the Scylla of the
telegram and the Charybdis of this devastating notification to the police.

He was standing at a street corner, near the telegraph office, racking
his brains, when a newspaper boy passed him, selling an evening paper;
and he bought a copy in order to read the latest news in regard to
his own murder. Great developments, he found, had taken place during
the day. Acting upon an anonymous communication, the police had dug
up the flagstones of one of the basement rooms of the inn, and there
they had found the decomposing body of a certain Italian gentleman who
had disappeared some months previously; and, following upon this, the
innkeeper had made a dramatic confession. It was true, he declared, that
both murders were the work of his hands. In the case of the Italian, the
victim had insulted a woman of his acquaintance and a duel had followed;
and in the case of the Englishman, the motive had been revenge for an
insult to his beloved Italy. He had offered to fight this foreigner like
a gentleman, but the stranger had taken a mean advantage of him and had
struck him with a candlestick. Thereupon he had stabbed him deeply, as
the blood indicated, but not fatally, for there had followed a pretty
fight; and at last he had lifted his opponent from the ground and had
hurled him straight through the window. Then, contemptuously handing his
knife to that one of his friends who had cravenly fled, he had told him
to finish the work, and to throw the body to the fishes.

At this Jim’s heart leapt within him, and he laughed aloud. It was now
totally unnecessary for him to save the braggart’s neck by revealing
the fact that he was alive and unhurt. Indeed, he smiled, he had not
the heart to spoil the man’s boastful story. The innkeeper was a proven
murderer or manslaughterer, and there was no need to speak up in his
defence. The finding of the first victim’s body, and the consequent
confession, had completely ended the matter; and now the law could take
its course. And upon the heels of this conclusion there came rushing
forward another thought—a thought which had been lurking in the back of
his mind ever since he had read the first news of the crime.

“James Tundering-West is dead,” he muttered; “the Squire of Eversfield is
_dead_! But Jim Easton, the vagrant, is alive!”

He struck his breast with his fist, and set off walking aimlessly along
the street, away from the telegraph office. Of a sudden, it seemed to
him, an incubus had been removed. That fat, leering figure in its tight
black coat, which, in his imagination, had come to represent domestic
life and village society, had collapsed like a pricked balloon. It had
leered at him for the last time, and, with a whistle of escaping air, had
shrunk into a little heap, over which he was even now leaping to freedom.

“Jim Easton, the free man, is alive,” sang his heart, “but Dolly’s
husband is at the bottom of the sea!”



Chapter XIII: FREEDOM


It is not easy to convey in a few words the turmoil of Jim’s mind
during the following days. One cannot say that he was the prey of his
conscience, for he believed from the bottom of his heart that he was
doing the best thing for Dolly, as well as for himself, in thus allowing
the story of his murder to stand. His uncle had lived a double life, and
thus had maintained a reputation for virtue. In Jim’s case, he could not
long have hidden from the eyes of his neighbours the wretchedness of
his marriage, and there was no likelihood that he would have ever set a
shining example of nobility to the village; and therefore his supposed
extinction could be regarded as one of those pretences which are the
basis of society.

Had there been any likelihood of his deception being found out, the case
would have been different; but his death had been accepted absolutely,
and he did not suppose that there would be any penetrating inquiries or
investigations by the police now that the innkeeper had made his lying
confession. He was completely “dead,” nor would he ever have to come back
to earth again, thereby upsetting any future arrangement of her life
which his “widow” might make; for even if he were one day recognized by
some English acquaintances he could always put any inquirer in the wrong
by showing that he had been none other than “Jim Easton” these many
years.

Yet the fear of detection, and the indefinite sense that he was acting
in a manner violently opposed to those legalities which he did not
understand, but whose existence he realized, kept him in a state of
nervous tension and temporarily banished all peace from his mind. He was
convinced that Dolly would not grieve for him; yet the manner of his
death would be a shock to her, and there were two other persons—Mrs.
Darling and Smiley-face—who would feel his loss. They would soon forget
him, however.

He recalled Mrs. Spooner’s angry words to him after that day when he had
inadvertently interrupted her bicycle-ride: “You haven’t much idea of
obligation, have you?” This irresponsibility, of which people complained,
was evidently growing upon him, he thought to himself; yet, viewing the
matter from another angle, was he not now deliberately acting for the
good of everybody concerned, in ending his unfortunate marriage and
abandoning his inheritance?

His equanimity, however, gradually returned to him in some measure;
and when at length he went back to Rome, and there settled himself
comfortably in the obscure little hotel in the Trastevere quarter, he was
already beginning at moments to feel a tremendous joy in his recovered
liberty.

He knew that he was a deserter, and he was well aware that so he would
be called by all nice-minded people. Yet that thought in itself did
not trouble him; for the mental standpoint of the wanderer commands an
outlook very different from that of the stout citizen. He saw clearly
that he had not in him the stuff of which a constitutional state or
a model household is made. He could not be a party to so many of the
hypocrisies of social life. He was not a good disciple of the Great Sham,
and was so often inclined to “give the show away” when most the illusion
ought to have been maintained. He was not a respectable member of the
community, nor was he gifted with those methodical and enduring qualities
which shape wedlock into a salubrious routine. Perhaps it was that he
had too much imagination to be a good citizen, too much finesse to be a
good husband. In any case he knew that he would never have been of use
to his country, except, perhaps, as a pioneer in a small way (for the
world-power of the Anglo-Saxon has been established by the rover and the
free lance); or possibly as a sort of intellectual bagman, unconsciously
exhibiting the lighter side of the race to foreign and critical eyes.

As the days passed he gave ever less consideration to his attitude, and
soon his thoughts of Dolly and his English life had become sporadic and
fleeting. Once, as he loitered in the sunny Piazza di Spagna upon a
certain Sunday morning, and watched the good folk mounting the hot steps
to the church of the Trinita de’ Monti, he irritably argued the matter
to himself as though anxious to exorcise it by arriving at some sort of
finality. “Dolly will be far happier without me,” he mused. “If I had
left her, and was known to be alive, I should harm her by placing upon
her the stigma most hateful to her sex—that of the unsuccessful wife.
But since I am supposed to be dead, she will benefit trebly: she is rid
of a bad husband; she will have the pleasure, very real to her, of
wearing mourning and nursing a fictitious sorrow; and she may set about
the management of her life with a house and a comfortable fortune to add
to her attractions. And then, again, from a public point of view, I have
avoided the inevitable scandal of my married life by dying before I was
driven to drink and debauchery. My memorial tablet in the church will be
worth reading!”

His cogitations did not carry him further than this on the present
occasion; for a number of white pigeons rose suddenly from the ground
near his feet, and circled round the Egyptian obelisk which stands in
front of the church, thereby directing his thoughts to the land of the
Nile and to the life which he had led before he inherited Eversfield.

On another day, while he was seated in the shade of the trees in the
Pincian Gardens, the passing carriages, in which the polite families of
Rome were taking the air, led his thoughts back once more to these fading
arguments and memories. “Now that I am dead,” he reflected, “Dolly will
at last be able to have the carriage-and-pair I had always refused to
give her. She will be able to play the part of the little widow in the
big carriage: yes!—that will please her far more than the presence of an
untidy-looking husband.”

It is to be understood, and perhaps it is to his credit, that he had
given the loss of his inheritance never a thought, nor had cared how
his money would be spent. He had nearly two thousand pounds in the
bank, which was sufficient to provide for his modest needs for three or
four years, and further than that he had no power to look. He did not
grudge Dolly the estate; and, indeed, so heartily had he come to dislike
Eversfield and all it meant, that he could have wished his worst enemy no
greater punishment than to be established there at the manor.

He gazed out through the arch of the trees to the dome of St. Peter’s,
rising above the distant houses on the far side of an open space of
blazing sunlight; and he breathed a sigh of profound relief that a means
of escape had been found from the cage of matrimony and domesticity
in which he had been confined. “I used to think,” he mused, “that it
would be a wonderful thing to have a wife who would be my refuge and my
sanctuary; but I see now that that was a delusion and a weakness. It is
far better for a man to stand on his own two legs, and to make his own
heart his place of comfort, and what he looks out on through its windows
his entertainment.” Yet even so, he was aware that this statement of the
case did not cover the whole ground; for there certainly were times when
he suffered from a sense of tremendous loneliness.

Then came the trial of the innkeeper, and for a short time he was
obliged to return to the past; yet now he viewed matters with complete
detachment: it was as though he were in no way identical with James
Tundering-West, nor ever had been. He read in the papers, without a
tremor, how his wife had identified the walking-stick, handkerchief,
and postcard, which had been sent to England for the purpose of that
formality. He was mildly relieved to find that his dealings with the
diamonds had not been traced, and that his movements in France, and
his subsequent visit to Genoa and Pisa, were but roughly sketched in as
having no bearing upon the actual crime. The innkeeper’s declarations
quite amused him, and he was hardly indignant to find that the man had
become a popular figure, and that his sentence was wholly inadequate.

The close of the trial marked Jim’s complete emancipation. With a wide
mental gesture, which was very inadequately expressed by his twisted
smile and the shrug of his shoulders, he dismissed the tale of his
marriage from the history of his life, and turned his attention wholly
to that all-embracing present, which is the true wanderer’s domain. The
“I was” and the “I shall be” of the citizen’s domestic life was lost in
the great “I am” of the vagabond. He was no longer the lord of a compact
little estate, bounded by grey stone walls and green hedges. He was the
squire vagrant; he was enfeoffed of the whole wide world.

In the first exultation of his final freedom he decided to leave Rome.
The true vagrant does not move from place to place in conscious search of
knowledge or experience: he has no purpose in his movements. He travels
onwards merely to satisfy an undefined appetite for life. The difference
between the real nomad and the ordinary traveller is this, that the
latter passes with definite intent from one stopping-place to the next,
and the intervening road is but the means of approach to a desired goal;
but the nomad has no goal, or it might be said that the road itself is
his goal.

In Jim’s case—to use an illustrative exaggeration—if he were moving
south, and the dust were to blow in his face, he would turn and travel
north. Thus, when he made his departure from Rome he took his direction
almost at random. He had no ties, no duties, no cares. A knapsack upon
his shoulders, and some loose change jingling in his pocket, a roll of
notes stuffed into his wallet, and at least three languages ready to his
tongue, he set out to range over his new estate, the world, having the
feeling in his heart that he had come back to the freedom of youth from
a misty prison of premature age which was already fast fading from his
memory.

His route would be difficult to record and puzzling to follow. For days
together he lingered at little inns where a few francs procured him
excellent fare; now he passed on by road or rail, by river or lake, to
new districts, and new settings for the comedy of his life; and now he
came to rest under the awnings of some small hotel in the heart of a
sun-bathed city.

During a spell of particularly hot weather he went north to Lake
Maggiore, where, on the cool slopes of Mergozzolo, he spent a number of
dreamy days at a little whitewashed inn, from whose terrace he could look
down upon the lake and beyond it to the blue and hazy plains of Lombardy
and Piedmont. He worked here on the polishing of his verses, writing
also a longish poem upon the subject of freedom; and in the evenings he
sat for hours under the stars, talking to the proprietor and his wife,
or playing his guitar, and smoking the little cigarettes in which the
Italian Government so wisely specializes.

One incident which occurred at this time may be recorded. He was
making a journey by train one piping-hot day, and was seated alone
in a smoking compartment, which was connected by a door with another
compartment where smoking was not permitted. During a long run between
two stations this door was opened and another traveller entered, carrying
a small portmanteau and a bundle of rugs. He was a stout, florid,
prosperous-looking business man, whose English nationality was entirely
obvious, and when he explained in very bad Italian that he was changing
his seat in order to smoke a pipe, Jim answered him in his mother tongue,
and soon they passed into casual conversation.

“People on these Italian railways,” the stranger said, “seem to smoke
in any carriage; but I, personally, feel that one ought to stick to the
rules, and only do so in the compartments specially provided for the
purpose.”

“Quite right, I’m sure,” Jim replied, having no pronounced views on the
subject, but wishing to be polite.

“That is what these foreigners lack—a sense of neighborly duty,” the man
went on. “Don’t you think so? I always feel that England is what she is
because our people always consider the other fellow. We pull together and
help each other.”

He enlarged upon this subject, and was still citing instances in support
of his argument, when the train pulled up at a small station, where a
halt of ten minutes or so was announced by an official upon the platform.
Thereupon a number of passengers alighted from the train and made their
way through the blazing sunlight to a refreshment stall which stood
in the cool shade of a dusty tree in the station yard, just beyond the
barriers.

Jim was in lazy mood, and did not join this throng of thirsty humanity;
but his companion, who was feeling the heat, left his seat and followed
the hurrying crowd.

At length the bell rang, and the guard blew his horn; and Jim, suddenly
awakening from a reverie, became aware that his fellow traveller had not
returned, and hastily leaned out of the window to see what had become of
him. The driver sounded his whistle, and set the engine in motion; and at
the same moment Jim saw a fat and frantic figure struggling to pass the
barrier, and being held back by excited officials, who, it seemed, were
refusing to allow him to attempt to board the moving train.

Jim waved his arm and received some sort of answering signal of distress.
Instantly the thought flashed into his mind that here was an opportunity
to display that sense of obligation of which they had spoken, and to aid
a fellow creature in trouble. The man’s baggage! He must throw it out of
the train, so that, at any rate, the owner in his dilemma should not be
separated from his belongings.

Snatching the portmanteau and the rugs from the seat where they rested,
he pushed them through the window, and had the satisfaction of seeing
them roll to safety upon the platform at the feet of a bewildered porter.
Again he waved to the struggling man, and pointed repeatedly to the
baggage with downward jabbing finger; then, having thus performed what he
considered to be a most neighbourly act of quick-witted succour, he sank
back into his corner seat and laughed to himself at the incident.

A smile still suffused his face when, several minutes later, the door
from the next compartment opened and the portly Englishman made his
appearance.

“Warm lemonade,” he remarked; “but it was better than nothing. A dam’
pretty woman in the next carriage. I’ve been trying to talk to her, but
it was no good: we can’t understand each other.”

Jim stared at him in horror, as at a ghost. “Then it wasn’t you at the
barrier?” he gasped in awe.

“What d’you mean?” the other asked. “Hullo, where’s my baggage?”

Jim blanched. “I threw it out of the window,” he said, swallowing
convulsively.

“You did _what_?” the man exclaimed, staring at him in amazement.

“I thought,” Jim stammered, “it was the most neighbourly thing to do; you
see, I....” But the remainder of the sentence failed upon his dry lips,
as the corpulent stranger rose up before him in the crimson fullness of
his fury.

Never had Jim, in all his vicissitudes, been subjected to so overwhelming
a bombardment of abuse; and though he managed at length to explain
the mistake he had made, he failed thereby to check the passionate
maledictions which spluttered and burst about his devoted head like
fireworks. At last he could stand it no longer, and, rising slowly to his
feet, he smote the stranger a blow upon the jaw which sent him reeling
across the compartment, as the train came to a standstill at another
station.

The man staggered to the door, and, tumbling out on to the platform,
shouted for help in a frenzied admixture of English, French, and Italian;
but while a crowd of uncomprehending passengers and officials gathered
around him, Jim opened the door at the opposite end of the carriage, and
descended on to the deserted track. A moment later he had disappeared
behind the wall of an adjacent shed, and soon was out on the high road,
heading for his destination, which was yet some ten miles distant.

“That’s enough of neighbourly duty for one day,” he muttered, as he lit a
cigarette.

A great part of August he spent amidst the woods of Monte Adamello, and
in the Val Camonica; but, suddenly feeling a little bored, and having a
desire for the sea, he made the long train-journey to Venice, and crossed
the water to the Lido, where he bought himself a mad red-and-white
bathing suit, and went daily into the sea with a crowd of merry Venetians.

The delights of the Stabilimento dei Bagni, however, did not long hold
him in thrall. There was too much splashing and spitting; and, when the
bathing hours were over for the day, the concert-hall and the open-air
theatre offered a kind of entertainment which, owing to an unaccountable
mood of discontent, soon began to pall. He therefore took ship across the
Gulf of Venice to Trieste, and stayed for some days at a small hotel on
the hillside towards Boschetto.

Here, one evening at dinner, he made the acquaintance of a ship’s
officer, who told him that on the morrow the steamer on which he was
employed was sailing for Cyprus; and, without a moment’s hesitation,
Jim decided to take passage by it to that island of romance. It was
September, and the weather was cooling fast. He had had some vague idea
of crossing the sea to the Levant; but now this new suggestion came to
him with a surprisingly definite appeal.

“Of Course, Cyprus!” he exclaimed. “The very place I have always wanted
to visit. I had forgotten all about it.”

He had read books, and had heard travellers’ tales, about this wonderful
land which rises from the blue waters of the eastern Mediterranean like
a phantom isle of enchantment. Here the remains of temples dedicated to
the old gods of Greece are to be seen: the mountain streams still resound
at noon with the pipes of Pan; at sunset upon the seashore one may
picture Aphrodite rising in her glory from the waves; and at midnight the
barking of the dogs of Diana may be heard over the hills. The Crusaders
endeavoured to establish a kingdom here on Frankish lines, and the
place is full of the ruins of their efforts. The headlands are crested
with crumbling baronial castles, and in the towns there still stand the
walls of Gothic churches, wherein, at dead of night, they say that the
ghostly chanting of hymns to the Blessed Virgin may be heard. Then came
the Moslems; and to this day the call to prayer in the name of Allah
synchronizes with the tolling of convent bells summoning the worshippers
in the name of the Mother of Jesus, while the peasants, inwardly heedless
of both, still make their little offerings at the traditional holy places
of the gods of Olympus.

It is a land in which the movement of Time is forgotten, and in part
it is a living remnant of the dead ages; and as such it had for long
appealed to Jim’s imagination. Straightway, therefore, he wrote a letter
to his bankers in Rome telling them to forward him some money to the
Post Office at Nicosia, the capital city; and twenty hours later he was
standing on the deck of the small coasting steamer, watching the land
receding from sight in a haze of afternoon heat.

On the sixth morning, as the sun was rising, the anchor rattled into the
blue waters of the roadstead before Larnaca, the chief port of Cyprus;
and, after an early breakfast, Jim was rowed in a small boat, manned
by a Greek and a negro, towards the little town which stood white and
resplendent in the sunshine, its cupolas, minarets, and flat-roofed
houses backed by the vivid green of the palms and the saffron of the
hills. He knew a few words of Greek, and a considerable amount of Arabic;
and, with the aid of his friend the ship’s officer, he had soon chartered
the two-horse carriage in which he was to make the thirty-mile journey to
Nicosia, the inland capital of the island.

The road passed across the bare, sunburnt uplands, and was flanked by
scattered rocks, from which the basking lizards scampered as the carriage
approached. Occasionally they passed a cart drawn by two long-horned
bullocks, led by a scarlet-capped peasant; or a solitary shepherd driving
his flock; or some cloaked and bearded rider upon a mule, jingling down
to the coast. The glare of the road was great; but under the shelter of
the dusty awning of the carriage Jim was cool enough, and there was a
refreshing following-wind blowing up from the sea, which tempered the
autumn heat.

The time passed quickly, and it did not seem long before they lurched,
with a great cracking of the driver’s whip, into the half-way village
of Dali. The second stage of the journey was more tedious, for now the
novelty of the rugged scenery was gone, and the jolting of the rickety
carriage was more noticeable. Jim was thankful, therefore, when, in
the late afternoon, Nicosia came suddenly into sight, and the carriage
presently rattled through the tunnelled gateway in the mediæval ramparts,
and passed into the narrow and echoing streets of the city.

Here Greeks and Armenians, Arabs and Turks thronged the intricate
thoroughfares; and as the driver made his way towards the Greek hotel,
to which Jim had been recommended, there was much pulling at the mouths
of the weary horses and much hoarse shouting. Now their passage was
obstructed by an oxen-drawn cart, piled high with earthenware jars; now
they seemed to be about to unseat a turbaned Oriental from his white
steed; and now a group of Greek girls bearing pitchers upon their heads
was scattered to right and left as the carriage lumbered round a corner.
Here was a priest entering a Gothic doorway dating from the days of
Richard Cœur-de-Lion, and upon the wall above him were carved the arms of
some forgotten knight of Normandy; here a sheikh in flowing silks stood
kicking off his shoes before the tiled entrance of a mosque. Here were
noisy Turkish children playing before a building which recalled the age
of the Venetian Republic; and here wild-eyed Cypriot peasants wrangled
and argued as they had argued since those far-off days when Cleopatra’s
sister was queen of the island, and, ages earlier, when Phœnician seamen
and the warriors of ancient Greece had held them in subjection.

At last the carriage pulled up in front of the white archway which led
through a high, blank wall into the hotel; and presently Jim found
himself in a quiet courtyard, where a tinkling fountain played amongst
the orange-trees. The building was erected around the four sides of this
secluded yard, the rooms leading off a red-tiled balcony, supported on a
series of whitewashed arches, and approached by a flight of worn stone
steps.

Up to this covered balcony he was led by the genial proprietor, a man
with a fierce grey moustache which belied a fat and kindly face; and a
room was assigned to him, from the door of which he could look down upon
the fountain and the oranges, while from the window at the opposite end
he commanded a short view across a jumble of flat housetops to a group
of tall dark cypress trees, where the sparrows were chattering as they
gathered to roost.

The walls of the room were whitewashed and were pleasantly devoid of
pictures. It might have been a chamber in an ancient palace, and as Jim
sat himself down upon the wooden bench he had the feeling that he had
passed from the twentieth century into some period of the far past.

For some time there had been a vague kind of discontent in his mind. It
was as though his life were incomplete. He seemed to be seeking for
something, the nature of which he could not define. At times he had
thought that this was due to a desire for romance, a natural urge of sex;
but, on the other hand, his reason told him that he had had enough of
women, and that his present emancipation was in essence very largely a
freedom from them.

Now, however, in the dusk of this quiet room, his heart seemed of a
sudden to be at rest; and when from a distant minaret there came to his
ears the evening call to prayer, a sense of inevitability, a kind of
acknowledgment of _Kismet_, or Fate, passed over him and soothed him into
a hopeful and expectant peacefulness.

He was still in this tranquil mood when the summons to the evening meal
brought him down the stone steps and across the courtyard, where the
ripe oranges hung from the trees, and the fountain splashed. It was with
quiet, dawdling steps, too, that he strolled out, hatless, into the
narrow street after the meal was finished. The night was warm and close,
with the moon at full; and the pale deserted thoroughfare was hushed
as though it were concealing some secret. The barred windows and shut
doors of the houses seemed to hide unspoken things, and the two or three
passers-by, moving like shadows near to the wall, gave the impression
that they were bent upon some mysterious mission.

Here and there between the houses on either side small gardens were
hidden away behind high whitewashed walls, above which the tops of the
trees could be seen. The door of one of these stood open, and Jim,
standing in the middle of the empty street, paused to gaze through the
white archway into the shadows and sprinkled moonlight beyond.

Then, quietly into the frame of the doorway there came the figure of a
woman, peering out into the street, the moon shining upon her face and
upon her white hand, which held the door as though she were about to
shut it for the night. On the instant, and with a leap of his heart, Jim
recognized her.

“Monimé!” he cried out in amazement, running forward to her. He saw her
raise her arm to her forehead and step back into the shadow: he could
hear her gasp of surprise. A moment later he had taken her hand in his,
and her startled eyes had met his own.



Chapter XIV: THE ISLAND OF FORGETFULNESS


“Monimé!” he repeated. “Don’t you know me? I’m Jim—Jim Easton.”

For a moment yet she did not speak. He could feel her hand trembling a
little in his, and the movement of her breast revealed the haste of her
breathing. She leaned back against the jamb of the door, and her eyes
turned towards the garden behind her, as though she were contemplating
flight into its shadows.

When at last she spoke, her words came rapidly. “Why have you come to
Cyprus?” she asked passionately; and the sound of her voice brought a
half-forgotten Alexandrian night racing back to his consciousness. “You
couldn’t have known I was here, and nobody knows who I am. How did you
find out where I lived?” She moved her head from side to side in a kind
of anguish which he did not understand. “I don’t know that there is any
need for you in the Villa Nasayan.”

“Nasayan?” he repeated, in query. “Is that the name of this house?” She
nodded her head. “That’s the Arabic for ‘Forgetfulness,’” he said. “Why
did you give it such a name?”

Her answer faltered. The serenity with which he associated her in
his memory had temporarily left her. “There was much to forget,” she
replied, “and much has been forgotten. Cyprus is called ‘The Island of
Forgetfulness.’ It is wonderful how bad one’s memory becomes here.”

She laughed nervously, and again put her hand to her head. The fingers of
her other hand drummed upon the wall. “Why have you come?” she repeated.

“There was no reason,” he said. “I just thought I’d like to see Cyprus.
I had no idea you were here. I only arrived to-day: I was just strolling
about after dinner....”

“It’s more than four years,” she murmured. “Four years is a very long
time. It was all so long ago, Jim, wasn’t it? Nobody can remember things
as long ago as that, can they?”

She withdrew her hand from his, and stood staring at him with a baffling
half-smile upon her lips. His heart sank, for it seemed to him that she
was not minded to revive that dream of the past which to him had suddenly
leapt once more into vivid reality.

“I have never forgotten,” he whispered, though he knew that the words
needed qualification. “I knew it was you, almost before I saw your face.”
He hesitated. “May I come into your garden?”

She allowed him to enter, and closed the door behind him. Together they
walked in silence to a stone bench which stood in the moonlight beneath a
dark cypress-tree; and here they seated themselves, side by side.

For a while they talked; but it was a sort of fencing with words, he
thrusting and she parrying. He did not know what he said; for all his
actual consciousness went out to her, not through speech, but through a
kind of contact of their hidden hearts.

Then, without further preliminaries, she turned on him. “You say you have
never forgotten,” she laughed. “But when you say that you are deceiving
yourself, or trying to deceive me. I don’t like to hear you making
conventional remarks, Jim: I have always thought of you as frank to the
point of rudeness. Be frank with me now, and admit that you regarded our
time together as a little episode in your wandering life, and that you
went on your way without another thought for me....”

He interrupted her. “Was that how you felt about me?—you forgot me, too,
didn’t you?”

“With a woman it is different,” she replied. “One is not always able to
forget so soon.”

“But why didn’t you tell me your name, or give me some address?” he
asked. “I wrote to you from the ship: I posted the letter at Marseilles.
Didn’t you get it?”

“No,” she answered. “I stayed on at the Beaux-Esprits for a week or so,
but nothing came. I left an address when I went away: I’m sure I did.”

He laughed. “I think you must have forgotten to. We are both just
tramps....”

She made a gesture of deprecation. “At first I wanted to find you again
very badly,” she said, turning her face from him. “I made inquiries, but
nobody seemed to know anything about you. I remembered you said you’d
inherited some property, and I even got a friend in England to look up
recent wills and bequests for the name of Easton, but no trace could be
found. Then, somehow, it didn’t seem to matter any more, and I told him
not to look for you further.”

“Then you did care ...?”

“Who can tell?” she smiled, and her words baffled him, as did also the
expression of her face in the moonlight.

“Why didn’t you tell me your name?” he asked. “I don’t yet know it.”

She looked at him in surprise. “My name is still ‘Smith,’” she laughed.

“I don’t believe you,” he answered.

She shrugged her shoulders. “They all know me as that in this place—just
‘Mrs. Smith.’”

“It used to be _Miss_ Smith,” he said.

“One causes less comment as a married woman,” she explained. “Such
friends as I have suppose that I am a widow who, being an artist, has
come to live here because of the picturesqueness of the place and its
cheapness.”

“And what is the real reason?” he asked, looking intently into her eyes.

Of a sudden she rose from the bench, and stood before him, her back to
the moon, the light of which made a shining aureole round her hair. Her
left hand was laid across her breast; the other was clenched at her side.

“Jim, I beg you ...” she said. “This is the Island of Forgetfulness, and
you have strayed here, bringing Memory with you. There is no need for
you in Nasayan. For my sake, for your own sake, go, I beg you. There
is something here which we have in common, and yet which separates us:
something which to me is a garland of Paradise, and which to you might
be like the chains of hell. I beg you, I beg you: go away! Go back to
the open road and the Bedouin life. Leave me in Nasayan, in oblivion. I
don’t want you to know more than this. I swear to you there is no call
for you to stay. You have your wandering life: the hills and the valleys
and the cities of the whole world are before you. Don’t stay here, don’t
try to look into Nasayan....”

Her voice faltered, her gestures were those of pleading, yet even so she
appeared to him to have that regal attitude which he remembered now so
well.

The meaning of her words, the cause of their intensity, were obscure to
him. His mind was confused, and there was a quality of dream in their
situation. The black cypress trees which shot up around them into the
pale sky like monstrous sentinels; the little orange-trees fantastically
decked with their golden fruit; the tiled and moon-splashed pathways;
the white walls of the villa, clad with rich creepers; the heavy
scent of luxuriant flowers; the sparkling water in the marble basin
of the fountain—all these things seemed unreal to him. They were like
a legendary setting for the mysterious figure standing before him, a
figure, so it seemed to him, of a queen of some kingdom of the old world,
left solitary amongst the living long ages after her advisers and her
palaces had crumbled to dust in the grasp of Time.

“I don’t understand,” he said, rising and confronting her. “What is the
secret about you?—there was always mystery around you.”

“No,” she answered. “There was no mystery four years ago, except the
mystery of our dream. My secret then was only a small matter. I was
just a runaway. I had left my husband because I wanted my freedom, and
to follow my art in freedom. I had changed my name because I feared to
be called back. But now he is dead, and I have nothing to fear in that
direction.... No, there was no secret—then.”

“But now?—please tell me, Monimé,” he urged. “I want to know, I _must_
know.”

Once more she fenced with him, and their words became useless. At length,
however, his questions brought a crisis near to them again. She clenched
and unclenched her hands. “I beg you, go away now,” she urged. “Forget
me; go back to your freedom. There is something here which will trap you
if you stay. Oh, can’t you understand? Don’t you see that I can’t tell
whether Fate has brought you here for your happiness, or even for my
happiness, or whether it is for our sorrow that you have been brought. I
can’t tell, I can’t tell! We are almost strangers to one another.”

He put his arms about her and held her to him. She neither shrank from
him, nor responded to him. At that moment all else in time, all else in
life, was blotted from his mind, and he knew only that he had found again
the lost gateway of his dreams.

“You must speak out,” he cried. “I must know all that there is to know
about you. You must explain what you mean.”

She made a movement from him, and suddenly it seemed that her mind was
resolved. “Very well, then,” she said. “Come with me into the house.”

She led the way in silence down the pathway, and through a doorway almost
hidden beneath the creepers. A dark passage, screened by a curtain, led
into a square hall, softly lit by candles; and at one side of this a
stone staircase passed up to a gallery from which two doors opened.

To one of these doors she brought him, a shaded candle held in her hand.
Her face was turned from him as they entered the room, and he could not
tell what her expression might be; but her step was stealthy and her
finger was held up.

Then, suddenly, as in a flash, he understood; and instantly he knew what
he was going to see in the little bed which stood against the wall.

She held the candle aloft and motioned him silently to approach the bed.
It was only a mop of dark curls that he could see, and a chubby face half
buried in the pillows.

He turned to her with a burning question on his lips, but the beating of
his heart seemed to deprive him of the power of speech. She nodded gently
to him, her face once more serene and calm, and now, too, very proud.

“He is your son,” she said.

With a quick eager movement he pulled the light blanket back, and
snatched up the sleeping little figure in his arms. Even though the eyes
were tight shut, the mouth absurdly open, and the head falling loosely
from side to side, he saw at once the likeness to himself, and to all the
Tundering-Wests at whose portraits he had gazed during those years at
Eversfield. His heart leapt within him.

“Don’t wake him!” she exclaimed, hastening forward; and as she laid the
child upon the bed once more Jim saw her revealed in a new aspect—that
of a mother. Her attitude as she bent over the sleeping form, the
encircling, protecting arms, the crooning words—they were tokens of a
sort of universal motherhood. She was Isis, the mother-goddess of Egypt;
she was Hathor; she was Venus Genetrix; she was Mary. Upon her broad
bosom she nursed for ever the child of man; and her lips smiled eternally
with the pride of creation.

Silently he watched her as she smoothed the pillows, and there came
to him the memory of that day at Alexandria when he had awakened from
unconsciousness to find her leaning over him, her hand upon his forehead;
and suddenly he seemed to understand the nature of one of the veils of
mystery which enwrapped her, and which, indeed, enwraps all women who are
true to their sex. It is the veil which hangs before the sanctuary of
motherhood aglow with the inner illumination of the everlasting wisdom of
maternity.

An overwhelming emotion shook his life to its foundations: he could have
gone down on his knees and kissed the hem of her garment. He could not
trust himself to speak, but silently he took her hand in his and pressed
it to his dry lips.

She led him out of the room and down the stairs; and presently they were
seated once more upon the bench in the moonlight. In answer to his eager
questions, she told him in a low voice how she had hidden herself in
Constantinople when her time was approaching, and how the baby was born
in a convent-hospital. She had found in the city an English nurse, the
widow of a soldier, and at length with her she had taken ship to Cyprus,
and had rented this house.

“I want you to understand,” she said, “that there is no obligation of any
kind upon you. Here in Nicosia there are a few English people: they have
received me without question, and I am not lonely. I send my pictures to
London from time to time, and the money I receive for them is ample for
my needs. When my boy is a little older I will take him to some place in
Italy or France where he can be educated and I can paint. Don’t think
that there is any call upon you: don’t feel that here is a chain to bind
you....”

He stopped her with an excited gesture. “You don’t understand. This is
the most wonderful thing that could possibly have happened to me. I
want you to let me stay on at the hotel, and come over to see you every
day.... May I come to-morrow morning?—I must see that boy when he’s
awake. My son! He’s my son! Good Lord!—I’ve never felt so all up in the
air before.”

A sudden thought frenzied him. If only he had known her address, or she
had known his, his disastrous marriage would never have taken place. He
would have married Monimé, and ultimately this little son of theirs would
have been the Tundering-West of Eversfield Manor. But now, the boy was
nameless, and the inheritance was gone as the price of freedom.

“Oh, Monimé,” he cried. “How can you ever forgive me? Oh, why, why didn’t
I cable to you after I left Egypt?—why didn’t we keep in touch?”

He paced to and fro, running his fingers through his dark hair and
pulling at it so that it fell over his forehead. His eyes were wild, and
his face looked white and haggard in the moonlight.

“The fault was as much mine as yours,” she declared. “It was just Bedouin
love, and we let it slip from us. We dreamed our dreams, and in the
morning we went our ways, like the tramps that we are. And then when I
found that I had need of you, it was too late....”

“But now we must make up for it,” he said. “We must never lose each other
again. I love you, Monimé. I believe I have always loved you, somewhere
at the back of my mind.”

She smiled the wise smile of the old gods. “It was four years ago,” she
said, “and our little dream was so short. In a way we are strangers to
one another.”

Presently she rose, and told him that he must go. “The hotel keeps early
hours,” she said.

She led him to the door of the garden, but to his fervent adieux she gave
no great response. The expression on her face was placid once more, and
his excited senses could make nothing of it.

He walked down the silent, mediæval street oblivious to his surroundings.
Behind a shuttered window there were sounds of the rhythmic beating of
a tambourine and the twanging of some sort of stringed instrument; but
he heeded them not. A cloaked and hooded figure, leaning upon a staff,
passed him, and bade him “Good-night” in Arabic; but he did not respond.
He entered the hotel, and walked up the steps to his bedroom without any
real consciousness of his actions.

His whole being was, as it were, in an uproar, and his emotions were
playing riot with his reason. He had chanced again upon the woman he
had loved and almost forgotten, the woman he ought to have married;
and suddenly the great miracle had been wrought within him, and he was
deeply, wildly, madly in love with her. She was the mother of his son—his
son, his son, his son!

Over and over again, he repeated it to himself, and the words seemed to
go roaring like a tempest through the crowded halls of his thoughts.
But presently, as he sat upon the foot of his bed, new whirlwinds of
actuality came to the assault, and scattered the shouting multitude of
his dreams.

If he married Monimé he would be a bigamist, and within the reach of
the law. If he told her that he was married he might lose her for ever.
Even if he kept his real identity a secret, and risked detection, the
fact remained that he had thrown away his home and his fortune, and had
nothing in prospect when his present means were exhausted.

For the first time since the early days of his inheritance he realized
the value of the property to which he had succeeded, he realized the
merit of the name he had abandoned. In later years how could he ever look
his son in the face, and tell him of the home and income that had been
thrown away? Yet if he kept his secret, how could he endure to live daily
to Monimé a fundamental lie?

Bitterly he reproached himself for his past actions. Bitterly he cursed
Dolly for her part in the dilemma. There seemed no way out of the mess;
and far into the night he sat with his head resting upon his hands, his
fingers deep in his hair.



Chapter XV: WOMAN REGNANT


To Jim the days which followed were chaotic. The whole movement of his
existence seemed to be stimulated and speeded up, and the pace of his
thoughts was increased out of all measure. It was as though some sort
of drag or break had been removed from the wheels of his being, so that
the fiery steeds of circumstance were able to leap forward after many a
mile of heavy going. From now henceforth he was conscious of a general
acceleration, a new vehemence, even a sort of frenzy in his progress
along the high road of life; and, in consequence, his impressions were
received with less observation of detail.

In the high passion of love there is no peace of mind and little
satisfaction. The lover can never believe that he is loved, yet his
happiness seems to him to depend on that assurance. His anxiety haunts
him, fevers him, and lays siege as it were to his very soul.

The true lover makes more abundant acquaintance with hell than with
heaven. So sensitive is his condition that every moment not rich with his
lady’s obvious adoration is a moment impoverished by doubts and fears.
She is not so interested in him as she was, he thinks; she is bored; she
is cold to-day; she is thinking of something else; she does not surrender
herself impetuously as she would if she really cared. So says the
wretched lover in his heart, and so he gives himself over to the legion
of ten thousand devils.

Monimé maintained towards Jim a quiet and tantalizing reserve. Mentally
she seemed to be upon the mountain-top, and he in the valley below. When
he visited her at her house she kept him waiting before she made her
appearance: it was as though she were not eager to see him. Women have
this in common with the feline race: they seem so often to be intent
upon some hidden pursuit. They go their own way, bide their own time,
and no man may know the secret of their doings. No man may be initiated
into their mysteries; and that which occupies them upstairs before they
descend to greet him is beyond his ken.

Like a number of men, Jim’s character was marked by a certain simplicity.
He made no secret of his love: it was apparent in his every gesture. The
only secret which he maintained was that of his marriage, lest he should
lose her, and in this regard he lied to an extent which brought misery to
his heart. He gave her to understand that the property he had inherited
had proved to be of no great value, and that the little money he now
possessed was all that remained of its proceeds.

He desired to forget the years at Eversfield utterly, and to live only in
the present. To Monimé he had always been Jim Easton, and the fact that
she had not so much as heard the names Tundering-West or Eversfield aided
him in his deception. Yet in his own heart his marriage to Dolly and the
change of identity by which he had effected his escape were become the
two appalling mistakes which shut him off from Monimé and their son.

The little boy proved to be all that he could wish. He was about three
and a-half years of age, and was in the midst of that first great phase
of inquiry which is the introduction to the school of life. He used the
word “why” a hundred times a day; his large eyes stared in wondering
contemplation at every object which newly came into his ken; and his
fingers were ever busy with experiment.

It is a trying age for the “grown-up”; but Jim, not having too much of
it, enjoyed it, and enjoyed watching Monimé’s handling of the situation.

Her attitude towards himself during the first days, however, was the
cause of many a heartache. There was a curious expression on her face as
she watched him playing with the boy: it was at first as though she did
not recognize his parental position, nor regard him as being in any way
essential to the domestic alliance. She seemed to be anxious as to his
influence upon the child, and when once he made the jesting assertion
that parents should not try to be a good example to their offspring, but
rather an awful warning, she did not laugh.

The possession of a son was the source of the most intense satisfaction
to him; but Monimé seemed at first to be endeavouring to check his
belated enthusiasm. Sometimes she appeared to him, indeed, as a lioness
protecting her cub from an interfering lion, and cuffing the intruder
over the head with a not too gentle paw. She seemed to claim the boy
as her own exclusive property, and she allowed Jim no free access to
the nursery, nor indeed to the house. There were days upon which the
door was closed to him on one pretext or another; and at such times
he experienced a variety of emotions, all of which were violent and
passionate.

“People will talk,” she would say, “if you come here so often, Jim. I am
not independent of the world as I used to be: I have the boy to consider.”

She had called the child Ian, which, she said, was the name of her
father; and the fact that she had thus excluded him from a nomenclatural
identity with the boy was a source to him of recurrent mortification.
His son should have been James, or Stephen, or Mark, like his ancestors
before him: it filled his heart with bitter remorse that the little chap
should be merely “Ian Smith.”

Gradually, however, Monimé became more accustomed to his association with
the boy; and at length there came a memorable occasion on which they sat
together beside his cot for the best part of the night and nursed him
through an alarming feverish attack. It was then that Jim saw in her
face an expression of tenderness towards him which was like water to the
thirsty.

“You know,” he said to her, as they walked in the garden together in the
cool of the daybreak, “this is the first time you have let me feel that I
have anything to do with Ian. I have been very hurt.”

She turned on him vehemently. “Oh, don’t you understand,” she said, “that
your coming back into my life like this is very hard for me to bear?
I don’t want you to feel yourself tied down. I am perfectly capable
of looking after myself and my boy without your help. You have set a
struggle going in my mind that is distracting me. There is one side of
me which resents your interference, because you are just a wanderer,
perfectly capable of walking off once more with hardly a farewell.
There is another side which finds a sort of sneaking comfort in your
presence, and endows you with virtues you probably don’t possess. I was
self-reliant until you came. Now I am swayed this way and that. At one
moment I think I was wrong, and that we ought to be married and ought to
go to some country where we are unknown, so that we can explain our child
by pretending our marriage took place secretly four years ago. At another
moment I remember that you have not suggested marriage to me, and that
therefore you probably realize as well as I do your unfittedness for the
rôle of husband. And then there’s the constant feeling of the unfairness
of making you share, at this stage, the responsibilities I undertook of
my own free will at Alexandria.”

“It was my doing as much as yours,” he replied.

“No,” she answered, with a smile. “Any woman worth her salt handles those
sorts of situations, and makes up her own mind. Man proposes, woman
disposes. The whole thing is in the woman’s hands: to think otherwise is
to insult my sex. Men and women are both pieces in Nature’s game; but
Nature is a woman, and she works out her plans through her own sex.”

She sat down upon the stone bench, and, with hands folded, gazed up to
the dawning glory of the sunrise. It was as though she were a conscious
daughter of Hathor, Mother of all things, looking for guidance in her
perplexity. Jim seated himself by her side, and for some time there was
silence between them, though his brain seemed to him to be full of the
clamour of shackled words and incarcerated emotions.

Her reference to their marriage had pierced his heart as with a sharp
sword. He desired to make her his wife more intensely than ever he had
desired anything in his life before; yet he was unable to do so. He
wanted to possess her, to have the right to protect her, to be able to
dedicate his whole entity to her service; yet he was tied hand and foot,
and could make no such proposal.

He felt ashamed, exasperated, and thwarted; and suddenly springing to his
feet, he swung about on his heel, kicked viciously at the bushes, and
swore a round, hearty oath.

“What’s the matter?” she asked in surprise. “Has something stung you?”

He laughed crazily. “Yes, I’m stung all over,” he cried. “There are a
hundred serpents with all their flaming fangs in me. I think I’m going
mad.”

He paced to and fro, tearing at his hair; and when at length he resumed
his seat he seized both her hands in his, and frenziedly kissed her every
finger.

“I’m on fire,” he gasped. “I believe my heart is a roaring furnace. I
must be full of blazing light inside; and in a few minutes I think I
shall drop down dead with longing for you, Monimé. Then you’ll have to
bury me; but I tell you there’ll be a volcanic eruption above my grave,
and flames will issue forth from my bare bones. I don’t believe Death
itself could extinguish me: my love will burst out in fearful torrents of
lava, and the whole earth will tremble at my convulsions. I shall come to
you again in earthquakes and tidal waves and a falling rain of comets.
I shall blow the whole blasted world to smithereens before I go roaring
into hell.... That’s how I feel! That’s what you’ve done to me!”

He took her in his arms, and, holding her crushed and powerless to
resist, poured out his love for her in wild desperate words, his face
close to hers. The sun was rising, and the first rays of golden light
were flung upon the tops of the surrounding houses and trees while yet
the garden was blue with the shadow of the vanishing night.

“Don’t Jim,” she whispered. “For God’s sake, don’t! We’ve got to be
sensible. We’ve got to think what’s best for Ian. Give me a chance to
think.”

“I want you,” he cried. “I want you more than any man has ever wanted
anything. You belong to me: you’re my wife in the eyes of God. I want you
to marry me....”

He had said it!—he had uttered the impossible thing; and his heart stood
still with anguish. His arms loosened their hold upon her, and they
faced one another in silence, while a thousand sparrows in the tree-tops
chattered their merry morning salutation to the sun.

“Cad! Cad! Cad!” said the voice of his outraged conscience to him.
“Bigamist and thief!” And his heart responded with the one reiterated
excuse: “I love her, I love her!”

“You must give me time to think,” she said at length. “Go now, Jim. You
must have some sleep, and I must see to Ian.”

For two days after this she would not see him, but on the third day,
at mid-morning, he found himself once more in her drawing-room. It was
a charming room, cool and airy; and it had a distinction which his own
drawing-room at Eversfield had lamentably lacked. Dolly had been a victim
of the nepotistic practice of loading the tables, piano-top, and shelves
with photographs of herself, her friends, and her relatives. Pictures
of this kind are well enough in a man’s study or a woman’s boudoir; but
in the more public rooms they are only to be tolerated, if at all, in
the smallest quantity. Monimé, however, whether by design or by force of
circumstances, was free of this habit; and the more subtle essence of her
personality was thus able to be enjoyed without distraction.

The walls were whitewashed and panelled with old Persian textiles;
carpets of Karamania and Smyrna lay upon the stone-paved floors; the
light furniture was covered with fine fabrics of local manufacture;
and in Cyprian vases a mass of flowers greeted the eye with a hundred
chromatic gradations and scented the air with the fragrance of summer.

Monimé, upon this occasion, had reverted to her accustomed serenity of
manner; and as she refreshed her distracted lover with sandwiches of
goat’s-milk cheese and the wine of the island poured from a Cyprian jug,
she talked to him quietly of practical things.

She argued frankly for and against their marriage, and reviewed the
financial aspect of the question without embarrassment. She told him that
she had just received a proposal from her salesman in London that she
should go over to Egypt at once and paint him a dozen desert subjects,
there being a readier market for these than for pictures of little-known
Cyprus. This, therefore, she intended to do; and, in view of Ian’s
health, she proposed to send the boy and his nurse to England, there to
await her return in four or five months’ time.

Jim moved restlessly in his chair as she spoke, for the thought of
revisiting England was terrifying to him; yet if she went there he could
hardly resist the temptation to follow. He knew that it was preposterous
enough to think of a bigamous marriage to her, even here in the East, but
in England such a union would be madness.

“I thought,” he said gloomily, “that you did not want to risk meeting
your former friends.”

“What does it matter now?” she replied. “The scandal of my leaving my
husband is forgotten, and he, poor man, is dead. I have never told you
his name, have I? He was Richard Furnice, the banker.”

Jim glanced up quickly. “I know the name,” he said, with simplicity, for
who did not? “But I don’t remember ever reading of his domestic troubles.”

“No,” she replied. “The scandal was kept out of the papers. He was as
successful in explaining away my absence as he had been in explaining
away the presence of his mistress. Yes,” she added, in answer to his look
of inquiry, “he led the usual double life.”

“Very rich, wasn’t he?” Jim asked.

“Yes, very,” she answered. “But I have never cared much about money.
I have always agreed with the man who said ‘Wealth is acquired by
over-reaching our neighbors, and is spent in insulting them.’”

“I like money well enough,” said Jim, “but I’ve never been much good at
earning it.”

She asked him why he did not send some of his verses to a publisher
in England, and talked to him so persuasively in this regard that he
promised to consider doing so.

“But if you return to England,” he said, returning to the problem before
him, “are there none of your relations who will make it awkward for you
and Ian?”

She shook her head. “My father died several years ago, and I was the only
child. We have no close relations. You now may as well know his name,
too. He was Sir Ian Valory, the African explorer.”

Jim looked at her in surprise. “Why, he was one of my heroes as a
boy,” he declared. “I read his books over and over again. This is
wonderful!—tell me more.”

But as she did so, there arose a new clamour in his brain. He longed to
be able to tell her that his own blood was fit to match with hers. The
Tundering-Wests stood high in the annals of exploration and adventure:
his ancestors had roamed the world, as Knights of the Cross, as King’s
Envoys, as Constables of frontier castles, as Admirals of England. He
himself was blood of their blood, and bone of their bone; and his son
combined this high heritage with that of Valory.

Yet the secret must be kept. Bitter was his regret that so it must
be, thrice bitter his remorse that this son of his was a bastard. A
Tundering-West and a Valory!—and the issue of that illustrious union a
child without a name, hidden away in the Island of Forgetfulness!!

He went back to the hotel that day cursing Fate for its irony, hating
himself for a fool. Then, of a sudden, there came a possible solution
into his bewildered thoughts. Monimé was going to Egypt for some months:
could he not return to England, reveal the fact of his existence to his
wife, and oblige her to divorce him? The proceedings could be conducted
quietly, and Monimé, unaware of his real name, would not identify him
with them. He could return to her a free man, able to marry her, and in
later years he could tell her the whole story.

Yet how could he bear the long absence from her, how could he face the
terror that she might find out and reject him? “O God,” he cried in his
heart, “I am punished for my foolishness! You have belaboured me enough:
You, Whom they call merciful, have mercy!”

During the next few days Jim made a final arrangement of his poems, and,
adding a title-page: _Songs of the Highroad, by James Easton_, posted
them off to a well-known publisher in London, giving his bank in Rome
as his address. While reading through these collected manuscripts he had
come to the conclusion that the poems were rather good. “There’s quite
a swing about some of the stuff,” he said to Monimé. “In fact I almost
believe I could have shown you one or two of them without feeling an ass.
But I suppose the thoughts in them, and the melancholy speculations about
what is one’s ‘duty’ and all that sort of thing, are rather rot.”

As time passed, the idea of returning to England and obtaining a divorce
developed in his mind. He was reluctant, however, to make a final
decision, and his plans remained fluid long after those of Monimé had
crystallized. This was due mainly to the suspense he was experiencing in
regard to his relations with her. He avoided any pressing of the question
of their marriage, for he shunned the thought of involving her in a
possible bigamy case; yet he could see that so long as he maintained this
inconclusive attitude he gave her no cause for confidence in him.

Matters came to a head one day at the end of October. Monimé had arranged
with him to make the excursion to the mountain castle of St. Hilarion;
and it is probable that both he and she had decided to talk things out
during the hours they would be together. So far as he was concerned, at
any rate, the situation as it stood was impossible.

The carriage in which they were to make this fifteen-mile journey
resembled a barouche, but a kind of awning was stretched above it on four
iron rods, and from this depended some dusty-looking curtains looped back
by faded red cords and tassels, which might have been purloined from
old men’s dressing-gowns. Four lean and crazily harnessed horses were
attached to this vehicle, which looked somewhat like a four-poster bed
on wheels; and a red-capped and baggy-trousered driver, apparently of
Turkish nationality, sat high upon the box, Monimé’s man-servant being
perched beside him.

Rattling down the narrow streets of the city and through the tunnel in
the ramparts, they soon passed out into the open country, and, with
loudly cracking whip, bowled along the sun-bathed road at a very fair
pace, the sparkling morning air seeming to put vigour even into the
emaciated horses.

At length they came to the foot-hills, and saw far above them, against
the intense blue of the sky, the pass which leads through the mountains
to the port of Kyrenia and the sea. Here their pace grew slower, and from
time to time they walked beside the labouring vehicle as it crunched its
way through soft gravel and sand, or lurched over half-buried boulders.

Reaching level ground once more they went with a fine flourish through
a village where the dogs barked at them and the children stared or ran
begging at their side. Now the slopes and ledges of rock were green with
young pines, whose aromatic scent filled the warm air; and, as they
slowly wound their way upwards, the size of these trees increased until
they attained truly majestic proportions.

Towards noon they entered the pass, and Jim and Monimé were afoot once
more, whilst the tired horses rested. Behind them the gorges and valleys
carried the eye down into the hazy distances, and they could see
Nicosia lying like a white cameo upon the velvet of the plains. Before
them a cleft in the towering rocks revealed the azure expanse of the
Mediterranean, and beyond it the far-off coasts of Asia Minor, rising
like the vision of a dream from the placid ocean.

Monimé shaded her eyes as she gazed over the sea. “There is Phrygia,”
she exclaimed, “where Monimé lived, and Cappadocia and Cilicia! And away
behind them is Pontus, the land her husband took her to....”

“I have no home to take you to, Monimé,” he said, unable to eschew the
hazardous subject of their marriage.

“That’s just as well,” she answered, “because in the story, you remember,
he involved her in his domestic troubles, which led to his suicide, and
her own death followed.”

She smiled as she spoke, but to him her words were dark with portentous
meaning. He felt like a criminal.

Entering the carriage once more, they descended from the pass for some
distance, as though making for Kyrenia, which they could see far below
them; but presently a rough track led them through the pines, and brought
them at last to the foot of a tremendous bluff of rock, upon the summit
of which stood the ruined walls and towers of the castle of St. Hilarion.
Here the carriage was abandoned, and hand-in-hand they clambered up the
track, the servant following with the luncheon basket.

Soon they passed within the ruinous walls of the castle, and, having
rested in the shade and eaten their picnic meal, made their way amongst
fallen stones and a profusion of weeds and grasses towards the main
buildings, which mounted up the cliffs in front of them in a confused
array of walls and turrets, roofs and chimneys, battlements and bastions,
standing silent and withered in a blaze of sunlight.

Through a crumbling door they went, and up a flight of broken steps;
through the ruined chapel, on the walls of which the faded frescoes could
still be seen; along a shadowed passage, and up again by a rock-hewn
stairway; until at last they reached a roofless chamber locally known as
the Queen’s Apartment.

This side of the castle, which was built at the edge of an appalling
precipice, seemed to be clinging perilously to the summit of the
mountain; and through the broken tracery of the Gothic windows they
looked down in awe to the pine forests two thousand feet below. All about
them the bold mountain peaks rose up from the shadowed and mysterious
valleys near the coastline; and before them the purple and azure sea was
spread, divided from the cloudless sky by the hazy hills of Asia Minor.

From these valleys there rose to their ears the frail and far-off tinkle
of goats’ bells, and sometimes the song of a shepherd was lifted up to
them upon the tender wings of the breeze. All visible things seemed to be
motionless in the warmth of the afternoon, with the exception only of two
vultures, which slowly circled in mid-air with tranquil pinions extended.
It was as though the crumbling stones of the castle, and the forests and
valleys they surmounted, were deep in an enchanted slumber, from which
they would never again awake.

Here at these walls Richard Cœur de Lion, King of England, with trumpets
had summoned the garrison to surrender; but the walls remembered it no
more. Here the Kings and Queens of Cyprus, of the House of Lusignan,
had held their court in that strange admixture of Western chivalry and
Eastern splendour which had characterized the dynasty; but the glamour
of those days was passed into oblivion. Here the soldiers of Venice had
looted and plundered; but the ruin they left behind them had steeped its
wounds in the balm of forgetfulness.

Only Monimé and her lover were awake in this place of dreams. Seated
here, as it were, upon a throne rising in the very centre of the ancient
world, she seemed to Jim to be one with all the dim, forgotten queens
of the past; all the romance of all the pages of history was focussed
and brought again to life in her person; and in her face there was the
mystery of regnant womanhood throughout the ages.

Just as now she sat with her chin resting upon her hand, gazing over the
summer seas to the adventurous coasts of the ancient kingdoms of the
Mediterranean, so Arsinoe had gazed, perhaps upon this very mountain-top;
so Cleopatra, her sister, had gazed, over there in her Alexandrian
palace; so Helen had gazed yonder from the casements of Troy; so the
Queen of Sheba, camping upon Lebanon, had gazed as she travelled from
Jerusalem. The past was forgotten; but, all unknowing, it lived again in
Monimé, enticing him with her lips, looking tenderly upon him with her
eyes, beckoning him with her smiles, repulsing him with her indifference,
bewildering him with her serenity, maddening him with her unfathomable
heart.

“Monimé, I can’t go on like this,” he said, taking her hands in his. “You
must tell me here and now that you love me, or that I am to go out of
your life.”

“The future lies in your hands, Jim,” she answered, quietly and with deep
sincerity. “Surely you can understand my attitude. I will not bind myself
to a man who will not be bound, even though I were to love him with all
my soul.”

“I have asked you to marry me,” he told her.

“Your words carried no conviction,” she replied.

“I ask you again,” he said, daring all.

“You do not know what you are saying,” she answered. “Go away to England,
or to Italy, Jim, and think it over. Stay away from me for some months;
and if you find that your feelings do not change, if I remain a vital
thing in your life and do not fade into a memory, then you can come back
to me, knowing that I will not fail you. We have had enough of Bedouin
love. If I were to be honest with myself I would tell you that long ago
circumstances made me realize that we did wrong at Alexandria, because
we were unfair to the unborn generation. I set myself in opposition to
accepted custom, and I have been beaten by just one thing—my anxiety for
the welfare of the child my emancipation brought me, my terror in case
there should be a slur upon his name. There must be no more playing with
vital things.”

Her suggestion that he should go away from her for some months, while
she worked in Egypt on her desert pictures, came to him like the voice
of Providence, offering to him the opportunity to carry out his plan for
ridding himself once and for all of Dolly by divorce; and his mind was
made up on the instant.

“Very well,” he said. “I’ll go away—though not because I feel the
slightest doubt about my love for you. I’ll go to Larnaca to-morrow: some
people from the hotel are going then, so as to catch the steamer the day
after....”

She interrupted him. “Oh Jim, must it be to-morrow?”

He looked up quickly at her. “Do you care?” he asked, eagerly.

She had begun to reply, and he was hanging upon her words, when the
native servant made his appearance. Jim clapped his hand to his head in a
frenzy of exasperation. “Confound you!—what do you want?” he shouted to
the man.

“I suppose he’s come to tell us it’s high time to be going,” said Monimé,
laughing in his face.

Jim picked up a stone and hurled it viciously over the wall into the void
beyond. He would willingly have leapt upon the inoffensive servant and
throttled him where he stood.



Chapter XVI: THE RETURN


Thus it came about that Jim took ship back to Trieste, leaving Monimé and
Ian to go the following week to Alexandria, whence the boy and his nurse
would Journey by a P. and O. liner direct to England.

It was a blustering evening in early November when he arrived in London,
and to his sad heart the streets through which he passed and the small
hotel where he was to stay were dreary in the extreme. His brain was full
of the sunshine of the Mediterranean; and the burning passion of his love
for Monimé seemed to draw all his vitality inwards, and to leave frozen
and desolate that part of his entity which had to encounter the immediate
world of actuality.

Upon the following morning it rained, and for some time he lay in bed,
staring out through the wet window-pane at the grey sky and the grimy
chimney pots, dreading to arise and meet his fate. His first object was
to find Mrs. Darling. She had always been understanding and sympathetic,
and now she would perhaps aid him in his predicament. The news that he
was still alive would then have to be broken gently to Dolly, and the
situation would have to be handled in such a way that she would find it
to her advantage to divorce him. His heart sank as the thought occurred
to him that very possibly she would welcome his return and refuse to
part from him. In that case the game would be lost and life would be
intolerable.

At the outset, however, his plans met with a check. An early visit to the
flat where Mrs. Darling lived revealed the fact that she had rented it
furnished, and the only address known to the present tenant was that of
Eversfield. This did not necessarily mean that she was staying with her
daughter, and Jim was left on the doorstep wondering what was the best
way of getting hold of her quickly.

A sudden resolve caused him to hail a taxi and to drive to Paddington
Station. He would catch the first train to Oxford, pay a surreptitious
visit to Eversfield, and try to get into touch with Smiley-face, his
one friend there. The poacher would give him all the news, and would
doubtless be of assistance to him in various ways; and his reliability in
regard to keeping the secret was unquestionable. Smiley was a master of
the art of secrecy.

Jim was wearing a high-collared raincoat and a slouch hat, and, with
the one turned up and the other pulled down, he would easily avoid
recognition, even if, in the by-ways he proposed to follow, he were to
meet with anybody of his acquaintance. And after all, since he would be
obliged, in any event, to come back from the dead for the purpose of his
divorce, an indefinite rumour that he had been seen might be the gentlest
manner of breaking the news to Dolly. He wanted to spare her a sudden
shock.

He had not long to wait for a train, and by noon he was setting out
across the muddy fields behind the houses of Oxford, munching some
railway sandwiches as he went. The rain had cleared off, but the sky
was still grey; and the mild, misty atmosphere of the Thames Valley
filled his heart with gloom and brought recollections of the days of his
captivity crowding back into his mind. He could hardly believe that he
had been absent not much more than six months. He had lived through an
eternity in that brief space.

Nobody was encountered on the way, and when he mounted the last stile,
and stepped into the familiar pathway behind the church at Eversfield he
was still a solitary figure, moving like a ghost through the damp mist.

It was his intention now to skirt the village, and to walk on to the
isolated cottage where Smiley-face lived with old Jenny; but the silence
of his surroundings, and the deathlike stillness of the little church,
induced him to creep across the graveyard and to slip through the door
into the building.

In the aisle he stood for a while lost in thought; while the old clock in
the gallery ticked out the seconds. He felt as though he were a spirit
come back from the dead; and, indeed, the sight of the familiar pews, the
escutcheons, and the memorial tablets of his ancestors, produced in him a
sensation such as a midnight ghost might feel when called out of death’s
celestial dream to walk again amidst the scenes of his misdeeds.

Suddenly a new and shining brass tablet at the side of the chancel caught
his eye; and he hastened forward, his heart beating with a kind of
dread of that which he would see written thereon for all to read. The
inscription was truly staggering:—

    IN GRATEFUL AND UNDYING MEMORY OF JAMES CHAMPERNOWNE
    TUNDERING-WEST, ESQUIRE, OF EVERSFIELD MANOR, WHO, AFTER AN
    UNASSUMING BUT EXEMPLARY LIFE, MARKED BY TRUE CHRISTIAN PIETY
    AND AN UNSWERVING DEVOTION TO DUTY, MET AN UNTIMELY DEATH, IN
    THE FLOWER OF HIS MANHOOD, AT THE HAND OF AN ASSASSIN, NEAR
    PISA, ITALY, THIS STONE HAS BEEN SET UP BY HIS SORROWING WIDOW,
    DOROTHY TUNDERING-WEST.

    _Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of
    life._—Rev. ii. 10.

“Good Lord!” Jim muttered, his sallow face for a moment red with shame.
“And in face of this, I have got to come back to life, so that this
‘sorrowing widow’ may divorce me, and thereby empower me to give the
name of Tundering-West to my son and leave him in my will the property I
abandoned! A pretty muddle!”

He turned away, sick at heart. “O England, England!” he whispered. “Dear
nation of hypocrites!—at all costs keeping up the pretence so that the
traditional example may be set for coming generations.... Presently
they will remove this tablet, and instead they will scrawl across their
memories the words: ‘He failed in his duty, because he hid not his dirty
linen.’”

He almost ran from the church.

During the continuation of his walk he came upon two of the villagers,
but in each case he was able to turn to the hedge as though searching for
the last remaining blackberries, and so avoided a face-to-face encounter.
His road led him past the back of the woods of the Manor, those woods
whither he had so often fled for comfort; and it occurred to him that
before walking the further two miles to Jenny’s cottage he might whistle
the call which used to bring the poacher to him in the old days. It was
just the sort of misty afternoon on which Smiley was wont to slip in
amongst the trees.

He therefore stepped into a gap in the encircling hedge of bramble and
thorn, the straight muddy road passing into the haze behind him, and the
brown, misty woods, carpeted with wet leaves, before him; and, curving
his hand around his mouth, he uttered that long low whistle which sounded
like the wail of a lost soul, and which more than once had struck terror
into the heart of some passing yokel.

Thrice he repeated it, pausing between to listen for the answering call
and the familiar cracking of the twigs; and he was about to make a final
attempt when of a sudden he heard a slight sound upon the road some fifty
yards away. Turning quickly, he saw the ragged, well-remembered figure
dart out from the hedge into the middle of the road, eagerly running to
right and left like a dog that has lost the scent. He was hatless, and
his mop of dirty red hair was unmistakable.

Jim stepped out into the roadway, and thereat Smiley-face came bounding
towards him, his arms stretched wide, his smile extending from ear to
ear, and his little blue eyes agleam.

“Hullo, Smiley, old sport!” said Jim, holding out his hand; but he was
wholly unprepared for the scene which followed.

Smiley’s knees seemed to give way under him, and, snatching at Jim’s
hand, he stumbled and fell forward upon the grass at the roadside,
panting, coughing, and laughing. “O God! O God! O God!” he gasped. “I
knew you was alive, sir: I knew it in me bones.”

He pulled himself up on to his knees, and held Jim’s hand to his face,
hugging it in a sort of frenzy of animal delight.

“Get up!” said Jim, sharply. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I dunno,” Smiley answered, sheepishly, clambering to his feet. “I felt
sort o’ dizzy-dazzy like. I get took like that sometimes. I ’ad the
doctor to me once: he told old Jenny it was my ticket home. That’s what
’e said it was: I heerd ’im say it to ’er.”

“Been ill, have you?” Jim asked, putting his hand on the poacher’s
shoulder, and observing now how haggard the face had grown.

“I’ll be fit as a fiddle now you’ve come back,” he answered, laughing.
“I knew you wasn’t dead! Murdered, they said you was; but I says to old
Jenny: ‘I’ll not believe it,’ I says; ‘not with ’im able to floor I with
one twist of his ’and. ’E’s just gone off tramping,’ I says. ’E’s gone
back to the roads.... ’E never could abide a bedroom.’”

“Well, you were right, Smiley,” Jim replied. “I couldn’t stick it any
longer, and so I quitted. But I mustn’t be seen, you understand. I’m
dead. I’ve only come down here to get into touch with you, and find out
how things are going on.”

“Friends stick to friends,” the poacher crooned, intoning the words like
a chant. “I never ’ad no friend except you. It seems like I given you
everything I got inside my ’ead.”

They entered the wood together, and sat down side by side upon a fallen
tree trunk. Jim questioned him about Dolly, and was told that she was
living quietly at the Manor, a little widow in a pretty black dress; and
that her mother sometimes came to stay with her, but was not at present
in Eversfield, so far as he knew.

“Do you think she misses me?” Jim asked.

Smiley wagged his head. “I wouldn’t like to say for sure,” he answered;
“but betwixt you and me, sir, that there Mr. Merrivall do spend a deal o’
time at the Manor. Jane Potts, his ’ousekeeper, be terrible mad about it.
They do say her watches him like a ferret. It’s jealousy, seeing her’s
been as good as a wife to ’im, these many years. But he’s that took with
your lady, sir, he can’t see what’s brewing. Seems like as they’d make a
match of it when her mourning’s up.”

“The devil they would!” Jim exclaimed, his face lighting up. “Why, then,
she’ll be very willing to divorce me.... That’s good news, Smiley!”

The poacher looked perplexed. “Divorce you?” he asked. “Baint you staying
dead, then?”

Jim put his hand on Smiley’s shoulder again. “Look here,” he said, “I
told you once that if ever I confided my troubles to anybody it would be
to you. Can I trust you to hold your tongue?”

Smiley exposed all his yellow teeth in a wide grin. “You can trust I
through thick and thin, same as what you said once. They could tear my
liver out, but they’d not make I tell what you said I mustn’t tell; and
that’s gospel.”

Thereupon Jim explained the whole situation to him, telling him how in a
far country he had found again the woman he ought to have married, and
how he hoped that Dolly would free him.

“It’s life or death, Smiley,” he said earnestly. “If my wife welcomes me
back from the grave, and claims her rights, I shall put a bullet through
my head, for I could not be the husband of a sham thing now that I know
what it is to love a real woman. Oh, man, I’m devoured by love. I’m
burning to be back with her, and with the son she has borne me. Don’t you
see I’m in hell, and the fires of hell are consuming me?”

The poacher scratched his towsled red hair. “Yes, I see,” he said. “And
I reckon her’s waiting for you over there in them furrin lands where the
sun’s shining and the birds are singing. When they told I you was dead
I says to old Jenny you’d only gone to those countries you used to talk
about, where the trees are green the year round, and you look down into
the water and see the trout a-sliding over mother-o’-pearl. ‘’E’s heard
the temple-bells a-calling,’ I says, ‘the same as ’e sang about that day
in the parish-room,’ I says, ‘and ’e’s just sitting lazy by the river,
and maybe the queen of them parts is a-kissing of ’is ’and.’”

Jim laughed aloud. “Smiley, you’re a poet,” he said, “but you came pretty
near the truth, only it was I who was kissing _her_ hand.”

For a while longer they talked, but at length Jim proposed that the
poacher should go at once to Ted Barnes, the postman, and find out
whether Mrs. Darling was at the Manor or not, and if not, perhaps Ted
could be induced to tell him the address to which her letters were
forwarded. “Say you want to send her a couple of rabbits,” Jim suggested,
with a laugh. He looked at his watch. “It will be dusk in two hours or
so. Meet me here at about that time, just before it is dark.”

Smiley seemed eager to be of service, and, repeatedly touching his
forelock, went off on his mission in high spirits, turning round to wave
a dirty hand to his adored friend as he glided away amongst the tree
trunks into the haze. Thereupon Jim set off for a walk in the direction
of the neighbouring village of Bedley-Sutton, in order to pass the time;
and it was an hour later that he returned to the woods of the Manor.

There was still another hour to wait before he might expect Smiley’s
return; and he therefore strolled through the silent woods, visiting
with gloomy curiosity the various well-remembered scenes of his days of
captivity. “How could I ever have stood it?” he questioned himself; yet
at the back of his mind there was the overwhelming consciousness that
here was the home of his forefathers, the home he wished to hand on to
his son, but that now it belonged to Dolly, a woman to whom he felt no
sense of relationship, and ultimately it would pass out of his family,
unless he laid claim to it anew.

The turmoil in his mind was extreme, and his dilemma was made more
desperate by the thought that Monimé, whose instinctive wisdom and
practical sympathy might now be so helpful, must be shut out from these
events and kept in ignorance of his perplexity. He yearned to write to
her and make a clean breast of it, yet he feared the blighting effect of
such a confession of crude error and deception. With his whole heart he
detested himself.

His wandering footsteps led him at length to a point not far distant
from the bottom of the Manor garden. He had been threading his way
unconsciously through undergrowth and brambles, carrying his coat over
his arm and his hat in his hand; and he was about to step out on to the
mossy pathway which led to the garden gate when suddenly he heard voices
at no great distance, and with beating heart, he stepped back into a
thicket and crouched there behind the tall-growing bracken.

A moment later he was staring with flushed face at the approaching
figures of Dolly and George Merrivall, who were strolling towards him,
she gazing up at her middle-aged companion, and he, his arm about her,
looking down at her with his large fish-like eyes. The picture stamped
itself savagely upon his mind.

Dolly was wearing a smart black coat and skirt, and a black-and-white
scarf was flung around her neck. A saucy little black felt hat, adorned
with a stiff feather, showed up her golden hair and the fair complexion
of her childlike face. Merrivall, in a new walking-suit of grey homespun,
a large cap to match, and grey stockings covering his thin legs, seemed
to be clothed to approximate to the grey haze of the afternoon; and even
his face appeared grey, like the dead ashes of a fire long burnt out.

Soon they were close at hand, and Jim could hear their words.

“O George,” Dolly was saying, “how frightening the woods are in the
half-light! I believe they really are haunted. Why did you dare me to
come here?”

“It was you who proposed it,” he answered, shortly.

“Did I?” she replied, looking up at him with innocent eyes. “Well, I’m
not really afraid when you are with me. You’re so strong, so protective.
I suppose there’s nothing in the world that could frighten you.”

“Not many things,” he agreed, with a brave toss of his head.

She pressed his arm. “You know, that’s what I always missed so much in
poor Jim. I could never look to him for protection; I could never lean on
him. And, you see, I’m such a little coward, really: you should see me
running sometimes from some silly thing that has startled me.”

“My little fawn!” he murmured, lifting her hand to his lips.

Jim’s eyes were wild. “The same old game!” he muttered to himself, as he
peered at them between the wet, brown leaves of the bracken.

“You need a man to take care of you,” Merrivall continued. “How long must
we wait before we can announce our engagement?”

“You are impatient, George,” she replied. “Even though I never really
loved Jim, I feel I ought to give his memory the tribute of the usual
year. People who don’t know how he forced me to marry him and how
brutally he ill-treated me, would say unkind things if I married you any
sooner than that.”

Merrivall remained silent for a moment, standing still upon the mossy
pathway. “Nobody would know if we got married at once at a registry
office,” he said at length. “We could go abroad for some months.”

She looked up at him archly. “A wife is a very expensive thing you
know,” she smiled. “Why, a woman’s clothes alone cost a fortune. You see
it isn’t only what shows on the outside—it’s all the wonderful things
underneath....”

They passed on out of earshot, leaving Jim, who remembered so well
her tricks, consumed by fierce anger, and overwhelmed by his destiny.
If Dolly married this man, the final complication would be reached,
and the legal difficulties would be multiplied out of all reckoning.
Moreover, the thought that the home of the Tundering-Wests should pass
to a washed-out drunken remittance man enhanced the value of the estate
a hundredfold in his eyes. He felt inclined to reveal himself at once:
he was mad with rage at her misrepresentation of the facts of their
relationship.

A few moments later Merrivall stopped short, looking at his watch;
and, as he turned, Jim could hear again his words. “Good gracious!” he
exclaimed. “I shall be late for the whist drive. What am I thinking of!”

He took Dolly’s hand and ran back at a jog-trot towards the gate. As
soon as they had passed him and were hidden by the bend in the path, Jim
rose to his feet and hurried after them. He had no settled purpose: he
wished only to follow them. When he came within fifty yards of the border
of the woods, however, he paused behind a tree, and watched Merrivall
as he hastened across the garden, leaving Dolly panting at the gate.
She was perhaps a little annoyed at his precipitation, and thought it
more dignified to let him be, now that she was back in the safety of her
garden and the fearsome woods were behind her.

After a lapse of a minute or two Jim observed that she was looking from
side to side as though she had lost something, and soon he could see that
she had dropped one of her gloves, and was trying to pluck up her courage
to enter the gloomy dimness of the haunted woods once more in order to
find it. His eye searched the pathway, and presently he discerned the
missing glove lying not more than a few yards from him, a little further
into the woods.

He had no time to conceal himself before Dolly came running down the
pathway, looking furtively to right and left. She passed without seeing
him and retrieved the glove; but as she turned to retrace her steps she
caught sight of him and started back, uttering a cry of fright.

Flight seemed useless to Jim: the crisis had come, and in his bitter
wrath he gladly faced it. Slowly and deliberately he stepped forward on
to the pathway and stood there barring her way. His raincoat and hat were
still amongst the bracken at his former place of hiding, and now he stood
silently in the grey and ghostly haze, wearing an old suit of clothes
which she knew well, his dark hair falling untidily about his forehead,
his face ashen white, his eyes burning with anger, his whole attitude
menacing and vindictive.

Dolly’s terror was horrible to behold. Her right hand and arm beat at
the air conclusively; the knuckles of her left hand were thrust between
her chattering teeth; her eyes were dilated, and her eyebrows seemed to
have gone up into her hair.

“I didn’t mean it, Jim!” she gasped. “I didn’t mean it! Go away! I’ll
tell him the truth; I’ll tell him you were good to me ... O God, take him
away!... Go back to your grave, Jim. O God, take him away, take him away
...!”

Her voice rose to a shriek; and, falling upon her knees, she beat the
soft moss of the pathway with her fists in frenzy.

“Get up, you little fool!” Jim snapped. “I’m not a ghost. I’m alive: look
at me.”

She stared at him with her mouth open, crawled forward, and rose to her
feet. Suddenly, as the truth seemed to dawn upon her, the colour surged
into her cheeks, and there came an expression of hatred into her face
which Jim had not seen before, and which wholly surpassed the animosity
he himself felt.

“You’re _alive_?” she gasped. “You weren’t murdered? You’ve just played a
trick on me?”

“Yes,” he answered. “I didn’t mean to turn up again, only circumstances
have compelled me to.”

“You can’t come back!” she cried, wringing her hands in such desperation
that a certain degree of pity was added to Jim’s tumult of emotions.
“You’re dead: you can’t come back to life again, you can’t, you can’t!...
Spoiling everything like this, you beast!—you devil! Oh, I might have
guessed it was all a dirty trick to spite me. You’ve been living with
some other woman, I suppose. Well, go back to her. I’ve done with you.
Nobody wants you here: we all thanked Heaven when you died. You were
always impossible.”

She moved to and fro, now twisting her gloves in her hands, now pointing
at him with shaking fingers, and now clutching at her breast and throat.

“Well, there it is,” Jim said, feeling himself to be in the wrong. “I’m
sorry about it all, but here I am, alive. I’m not going to bother you.
All I want is for you to divorce me for desertion, so that I can be quit
of you and Eversfield for the rest of my life.”

“Divorce you?” she repeated, furiously. “Divorce a dead man? Make myself
a laughing stock? Why, I’ve only just paid for a memorial tablet for you
in the church; a lying tablet, too, in which I’ve called myself your
‘sorrowing widow.’ It isn’t true. I felt no sorrow: I think I always
detested you. I should never have married you if it hadn’t been for
mother saying you were such a good match. And now, just when I’ve found
a real man, a man who will look after me, you come sneaking home again,
prowling about like a tramp, or a burglar, or something. I wish to God
you _were_ dead!”

Under her lashing tongue, Jim was nonplussed. He wanted to tell her
how she had made his life impossible by her shams and pretences, her
crude view of marriage, her intrinsic uselessness; but words were not
forthcoming. “As far as you are concerned,” he said lamely, “I shall be
dead as soon as you divorce me. It will mean postponing your marriage for
a few months: that’s all.”

“What have you came back for?” she cried, at length. “Is it money you
want? I suppose it’s a sort of blackmail.”

“No, I don’t want money,” he said. “I’ll leave you the bulk of the
estate. But I may as well tell you right away, you will only have a
life-interest in this place. On your death it will revert to me and my
successors. Those are my terms; and if you don’t agree to them, I’ll
claim the whole estate again and make you only an allowance.”

“Oh, you fiend!” she cried, beside herself once more with fury. “The
utter cruelty and callousness of it! It’s just a practical joke you’ve
played on me, coming back like a cad when we all thought you were dead
and done with. I’ll tell everybody: I’ll make your name stink in the
nostrils of every man who is a gentleman.”

Jim shrugged his shoulders; and, suddenly, to his amazement she leapt at
him and dug her nails into his face. He grabbed hold of her arms, and
for a dreadful moment they struggled like two savages. Then she broke
loose from him and dashed away amongst the misty trees at the side of the
pathway, stumbling through the bracken, and crying out to him disjointed
words of fury. For some moments Jim stood staring after her, listening
to the crackling of the twigs which marked her progress. She was working
round, it seemed, towards the gate of the manor, and presently the sounds
ceased, as though she had paused to get her breath.

Thereat Jim walked back towards his rendezvous, recovering his coat and
hat on the way. His brain was confused and distracted, and a feeling of
nausea was upon him. Passionately he hated himself; and miserably he
asked himself what Monimé would think of the whole unsavoury business
were she ever to hear of it.



Chapter XVII: THE CATASTROPHE


Darkness was falling, and Jim, whose heart was in his boots, was
beginning to feel cold in spite of the mildness of the day, when
Smiley-face made his appearance, touching his forelock ingratiatingly.

“I been a long time, sir,” he explained, “but you know what that there
Ted Barnes is. Slow to talk and wanting a power of persuading. But I got
the address from ’im: ’ere it is, wrote on this paper.”

He handed Jim a slip of paper, upon which the address of a Kensington
hotel was written. He was grinning triumphantly, as though he had
performed some great service for his friend.

“Good lad,” said Jim. “That’s very smart of you. I say, Smiley: I’ve had
the deuce of a time while you were in the village. I met my wife!”

The poacher smiled from ear to ear. “O Lordee!” he chuckled. “I reckon
that ’ud give her a bit of a turn, like.”

Jim told him something of what had occurred, but Smiley’s attitude of
frank amusement caused him to cut the story short; and it was not long
before he brought the interview to an end.

As they shook hands at the edge of the wood, Smiley suddenly paused and
raised his finger. “Did you hear anything?” he asked.

“No,” said Jim, after listening for a few moments.

“Thought I heard a step,” the poacher went on. “There’s a heap o’ tramps
about these days. I seen ’em in the woods sometimes, but I don’t allow no
one to poach there except me....”

He was in a loquacious mood, and Jim found it necessary to make a
resolute interruption of the flow of his words by shaking him warmly by
the hand once more and setting off down the dark lane in the direction of
Oxford.

He reached London, somewhat dazed, in time for dinner, and by nine
o’clock he was driving out to Kensington to pay a visit to Mrs. Darling.
Now that Dolly knew that he was alive, it would be as well for him to
enlist the services of her mother as soon as possible. He could, perhaps,
make it worth her while to aid him in regard to the divorce.

Upon arriving at the small private hotel where she was staying he was
shown into an unoccupied sitting-room.

“What name, sir?” asked the page.

“Mr. Tundering-West,” said Jim, apprehensive of the jolt the announcement
would cause, but feeling that since a shock could not be avoided, it
would be better for her to receive it before she entered the room.

He had not long to wait: after a few minutes of uncomfortable fiddling
with his hat, Mrs. Darling suddenly bounced in, as though she had been
kicked from behind. Then, with astonished eyes fixed on Jim, she shut the
door and stood staring at him in complete silence.

“Yes,” he said, nervously smiling, “it’s me, Mrs. Darling!”

“Good gracious!” she gasped. “Jim! You—you—you lunatic! What on earth
are you doing in the land of the living? You’re supposed to be dead and
buried.”

“No, not buried,” he corrected her. “I was knifed, you remember, and
dropped into the sea.”

She passed her hand across her forehead. “You mean you swam back home?”
Her voice was awed.

“Something like that,” he laughed. “Anyway, here I am; and I’ve come to
you to ask what I’m to do next. I’ve just had a talk with Dolly.”

Mrs. Darling threw up her hands, and therewith she set about his
cross-examination, asking him a number of questions in regard to his
life, and receiving a number of evasive replies. “My good man,” she said
at length, “do you realize that Dolly is an established widow, on the
look out, in fact, for another husband? Do you realize that we’ve had a
solemn memorial service for you, and put a tablet up in the church?”

“Yes, I’ve seen it,” he answered. “It made me blush for shame.”

“I’m very glad to hear it,” she said. “You may well be ashamed that you
have fallen so far short of the virtues attributed to you. I always think
it is such a wonderful thing in nature that the only creatures who can
blush are the only creatures who have occasion to.”

Considering that it was her daughter’s future which was at stake, Mrs.
Darling seemed to Jim to be treating matters very lightly.

“Do you realize,” she went on, her voice rising, “that your will has been
read, and Dolly owns every penny you had, and gives me three hundred
pounds a year allowance?”

“Only three hundred?” he remarked. “That’s mean. I’ll give you four.”

“It’s not yours to give,” she answered. “You’re dead—dead as mutton. You
can’t play fast and loose with death like that, you know. When you’re
murdered, you’re murdered, and there’s an end of it. It would make things
absolutely impossible if people could go popping in and out of their
graves like you are doing. Surely you can see that. What did Dolly say?”

“Oh, she was very upset,” he told her. “She stormed at me and called me
every name under the sun; said she had always hated me; told me she was
going to marry George Merrivall.”

“Well, what else did you expect? She says you ill-treated her horribly.”

“That’s a lie,” said Jim, sharply.

“Yes, so I told her,” Mrs. Darling replied. “I know you. You’re perfectly
mad, but I always felt you were very decent to Dolly, considering what a
little fraud she is.”

“Anyhow, I don’t mind her saying I ill-treated her,” he added, “if that’s
any use for the purpose of our divorce.”

“Divorce?” cried Mrs. Darling. “Do you want her to divorce you? What for?”

“So that I can be quit of her, and marry again if I find the right woman.”

Mrs. Darling held up her hands. “What sublime courage! But you mustn’t
let marriage become a habit, for the divorce courts are very slow, you
know. I have a woman friend who is already three marriages ahead of her
divorces. I should have thought that a man like you, who is something of
a philosopher and thinker, would now shun marriage like the plague. But I
suppose even the cleverest men.... There is the famous case of Socrates,
who died of an overdose of wedlock.”

“Hemlock,” he corrected her.

“Ah, yes, to be sure. Perhaps it is simply your youth: you still look
very young, in spite of your recent death. I remember, in the days before
my bright future had resolved itself into a shady past, I, too, was an
optimist about marriage. But I was soon cured. So long as he liked me,
my husband was so terribly jealous of me. It was quite intolerable.
He would not even let my eyes wander from him. Why, I remember once
turning my head away from him for a moment because I had hiccups, and
being instantly cured by his seizing my throat in a consequent fit of
passion.... Were you ever jealous of Dolly?”

“No,” said Jim; “and this afternoon I saw her making love to George
Merrivall without any feeling except annoyance with myself for ever
having believed in her.”

“Poor Dolly,” sighed her mother. “I am devoted to her, as you know; but I
do realize her faults, and I know what you had to put up with.”

For some time they discussed the possibilities of divorce, and Mrs.
Darling was frankly business-like in regard to the financial side of the
affair.

“Of course,” she said, “it is very hard to do business with you, my dear
Jim, because you are an honest man. I prefer dealing with crooks. It is
so simple, because you always know that at some stage of the game they
are going to try to trip you up. But with honest men, you never know what
they’ll do next.”

The upshot of their conversation was an understanding that Mrs. Darling
should go down next day to Eversfield and win her daughter over to the
idea of divorce; and, this being arranged, he rose to go.

“Good-bye,” he said, warmly shaking her hand. “I can’t begin to thank you
for your kindness, and generosity of mind.”

“Oh, nonsense!” she laughed. “I’m just a scheming old woman, Jim. As I’ve
often told you, I’d sell my soul for an income; and in this case it is
obvious that, since you are alive, you hold the family purse-strings.
That’s why I am nice to you.”

“I don’t believe it,” he answered.

“Well, anyway,” she said, “I wish you well, dead or alive. Good-bye, my
dear. May you be with the rich in this world and with the poor in the
world to come.”

Jim arrived back at his hotel in a somewhat happier frame of mind, and
went at once to his bedroom, tired after the adventures of the day. When
he was in bed, however, he found that sleep had deserted him; and for
some time he lay on his back, vainly endeavouring to quell the turbulence
of the mob of his thoughts. The figure of Dolly kept presenting itself to
his mind, and his inward ears heard her voice continuously railing at him
and reproaching him.

Her pretty, silly little face seemed to push in upon his thoughts
of Monimé; and suddenly he sat up, scared by the vividness of the
impression, and wondering whether it were some sort of portent of coming
calamity in regard to the new life for which he hoped so passionately. He
switched on the light, and, kicking off the bedclothes, went across to
the washstand and poured himself out a dose of whisky from his flask. The
radiator was too hot, and the room felt stuffy; but, throwing open the
window, a blast of cold air and wet sleet searched him to the skin, and
obliged him to shut it again.

“Oh, what a God-forsaken country!” he muttered; and therewith fetched
his guitar from its case, and sitting cross-legged upon the bed in his
pyjamas, began twanging the strings and singing old songs in a minor key
which sounded like dirges for the dead. The music soothed him, and soon
he was pouring his whole heart into the melodies, oblivious to all around
him. They were songs of love now, and as he sang his thoughts went out
over the seas to Cairo where Monimé at this moment was probably lying
asleep in her bed, her black hair spread upon the pillow.

There was a sharp knock upon the door. “Come in,” he called out, pausing
in his song, but remaining seated upon the bed, with his fingers upon the
strings of his guitar.

A red-faced, grey-moustached man of military appearance stumped into the
room, clad in a brown dressing-gown. “Confound you, sir!” he roared. “If
you don’t put that damned banjo away and go to bed, I’ll ring for the
manager.”

“What’s it to do with you?” Jim asked, twanging the strings dreamily.

“It’s disturbing the whole hotel,” he answered. “Nobody can get a wink of
sleep with that blasted noise going on. Damn it, sir!—have you no sense
of duty to your neighbour?”

The question hit home: once again he had been proved wanting in
consideration. “I’m most awfully sorry,” he said, with genuine
contrition. “I’d clean forgotten I was in a hotel. Please forgive me.
Have a whisky and soda? Have a cigar?”

His visitor did not deign to reply. He stared at Jim with hot, scowling
eyes, and then, making a contemptuous gesture, left the room again,
slamming the door after him.

“Well, that’s that,” Jim muttered, thereafter returning to bed, annoyed
with himself and distressed that he should have caused annoyance to
others. “What a swine I am,” he thought.

Matthew Arnold’s lines:—

    Weary of myself, and sick of asking
    What I am, and what I ought to be....

came into his brain, and gloomily he repeated them half aloud. Would
Monimé marry him? Or would she, too, find him impossible? What a mess he
had made of his life! Perhaps Dolly had been justified in her dislike of
him.

With such thoughts as these he at last fell off to sleep.

Next morning, after breakfast, he picked up a newspaper in the
smoking-room, and for some minutes read the foreign news without much
interest. Then suddenly a set of headlines caught his attention, and
caused him to sit up, aghast, in his chair. The printed words swayed
before his eyes as he read the appalling news.

“Last night,” the story began, “the body of Mrs. Dorothy Tundering-West,
widow of the late James Tundering-West, of the Manor, Eversfield, near
Oxford, was found in a wood adjoining the grounds of the Manor. The back
of the skull was smashed in, probably by a blow from a large stone which
was found near by with bloodstains upon it. Mrs. West had been missing
since four o’clock in the afternoon, and medical evidence indicates that
death must have occurred at about that hour....”

With desperate haste his eyes travelled down the column. There was
no doubt that she had been murdered, said the report, but the thick
carpeting of damp leaves upon the ground had retained no impression of
the offender’s footprints. She was lying on her face, and a second wound
upon her forehead was probably caused by her fall. The motive was not
apparent, for there had been no robbery, and there were no signs of a
struggle.

The police, he read, attached some significance to the presence of a man
of foreign appearance who was seen in the early afternoon picking berries
from a hedge in the neighbourhood. In this connection it was recalled
that Mr. Tundering-West had died by the hand of an assassin in Italy only
a few months ago, and it was possible that the two crimes were both the
outcome of some secret vendetta. What had induced the unfortunate lady to
go into the woods was a mystery, and perhaps indicated that she had been
lured to her doom.

Jim’s first emotions were those of extreme horror at the crime, and pity
for Dolly. The manner of her death appalled him; and though he was not
conscious of any binding relationship to her, the catastrophe of her
murder swept across his being like a fierce wind, as it were, uprooting
the plantations of his overstocked brain, or like a breaking wave
thundering on to the shingle of his multitudinous thoughts.

It was fortunate that he was alone in the smoking-room, for his agitation
was such that his exclamations were uttered audibly, and soon he was
pacing the floor, the newspaper crumpled in his hand. It seemed to be
his fate that the crises of his life should be announced to him through
the columns of the daily Press. In this manner he had read of his
inheritance, of his supposed murder at Pisa, and now of the death of his
wife. It was as though roguish powers had selected him as a victim on
whom thus to spring surprises.

Who could have committed the crime? The thought of Smiley-face came
immediately to his mind, but was as quickly dismissed again. The poacher,
he knew, had been busy in the village getting Mrs. Darling’s address from
the postman; and, moreover, his behaviour when they had met again clearly
proclaimed his innocence. Possibly some tramp had been lurking in the
woods, as Smiley had suspected, and Dolly had been assaulted by him as
she ran from Jim. He remembered now with awe the sudden silence which had
followed her loud flight through the crackling undergrowth.

The wretched Merrivall, he realized, would have to keep his movements
well hidden; for if it were known that he had been in the woods with
Dolly he would most assuredly be suspected, motive or no motive. If
anybody had seen him running across the manor garden on his way to the
forgotten whist-drive it would go hard with him.

Suddenly, following this thought, came the awful realization of his own
peril. He, Jim, was the last man to see her alive; and in his own case a
motive would not be lacking. Smiley-face would be certain to suspect him,
and by some mistake might give the secret away.

And then—Mrs. Darling! She knew he had seen Dolly in the woods, she knew
they had quarrelled violently! Of course, she would accuse him! The
thought blared at him like a discordant trumpet, proclaiming his guilt to
the world, while his heart drummed a wild accompaniment.

In bewilderment he ran blindly up the stairs to his bedroom and locked
the door behind him.



Chapter XVIII: DESTINY


For some time he sat in his bedroom, overwhelmed by horror and pity at
Dolly’s death, and by the terrible menace of his own situation. Mrs.
Darling would certainly denounce him to the police, for hardly could
she think otherwise than that he was the murderer of her daughter, even
though his open visit to her at her hotel would be difficult to reconcile
with his guilt.

Fate seemed to be playing with him, torturing him, hitting him from all
sides. If only he had postponed his visit to Mrs. Darling he would now be
free to slip away as unnoticed as he had come, resuming his life in the
Near East as Jim Easton, and being in no way suspected of the crime, for
the silence of Smiley-face could be relied on.

But now he was done for! True, he was to-day a widower, and was therefore
in a position to marry the woman whom he loved with a passion which
seemed only to grow stronger as the complications increased. But he would
be obliged to lie to her daily, throughout his life: there would always
be this pitiable barrier of deception between them. And, moreover, the
tragedy of Dolly’s death so filled his mind that any advantage it might
have to himself was hardly able to be realized. He was profoundly shocked
at her pitiable end, and its consequences were enveloped in gloom.

Even though Mrs. Darling were to hold her tongue, the Eversfield estate
would none the less be wholly lost to him now, nor would his son ever
reign there as a Tundering-West; for were he to lay claim to the
property, or reveal the fact that he, James Tundering-West, was alive,
Monimé would think he had gone to England and had done Dolly to death so
as to be free to marry again. How could she think otherwise?

And, again, though he were for the time being to escape from the arm of
the law, he could only marry Monimé at the risk of dragging her into a
possible scandal in the future.

He paced his bedroom in his despair, now cursing himself for his actions,
now screwing up his eyes to shut out the pitiful picture of Dolly, now
laughing aloud, like a madman, at the nightmare of his own position. One
thing was certain: he must leave England this very morning and make his
way back to Cyprus or Egypt, or somewhere. Already Mrs. Darling might
have notified the police. Fortunately she did not know his address, nor
had she ever heard the name “Easton,” but doubtless the ports would be
watched, and were he to delay his departure he would be caught.

In sudden haste which bordered on frenzy he packed his portmanteau and
rang for his bill; and soon he was driving to the station, a huddled
figure with hat pulled down over his eyes. He was far too early for the
train, and, during the long wait every pair of eyes which looked into his
set his heart beating with apprehension.

He had always been an outlaw: he had never fully understood the basis
of society, nor were the habits of the community altogether intelligible
to him. He had gone his own ways, and had left organized humanity to
go theirs. They had not molested one another. But now the State had a
grievance against him, and soon it would be feeling out for him with its
millions of antennæ, searching over hill and dale, city and field, with
waving, creeping tentacles. He would have to duck and dodge continuously
to avoid being caught, and always there would be in his heart the terror
of that cruel, relentless mouth waiting to suck the life out of him.

His relief was intense when at the end of the day he found himself, still
unmolested, in Paris. But he did not here stay his flight. All through
the night he journeyed southwards, sitting with lolling head in the
corner of a third-class compartment in a slow train—a mode of travelling
which he had deemed the least conspicuous.

At length, upon the following evening, he reached Marseilles, where he
put up at a small hotel at which he had stayed more than once under the
name of Easton. He told the proprietor he had just come from Italy, a
remark which led him to a frenzied erasing of labels from his baggage in
his bedroom.

The next morning he made inquiries as to the steamers sailing east, and
was relieved to find that a French liner was leaving for Alexandria in
a few hours. He obtained a berth without difficulty and, after a period
of horrible anxiety at the docks, found himself once more upon the high
seas, the menace of the western world fading into the distance behind
him, and the greater chances of the Orient ahead.

Thus he arrived back one morning upon the soil of Egypt, a fugitive from
the terror of the law, all his nerves strained to breaking-point, his
face pallid, his dark eyes wild. With aching heart he yearned for the
serenity which Monimé exuded like the perfume of incense around her;
he longed to be able to go to her and to bare his soul of its secrets,
and to lay his heavy head upon her complacent breast; he craved for the
comfort of those caressing hands which seemed in their soothing touch to
be endowed with the mother-craft of all the ages.

Never before in his independent life had he felt so profound a desire for
sympathy and companionship, yet now more than ever must he lock up his
troubles in his own heart. He would write to her at Mena House Hotel,
near Cairo, where she was staying, and tell her ... tell her what? That
he could not live without her, that he had come back to her after but a
couple of days in England, that she held for him the keys of heaven, that
away from her he was in outer darkness. He would await her answer here in
Alexandria, and by the time it arrived perhaps he would have recovered in
some degree his equilibrium.

Feeling that his safety lay in the unbroken continuity of his life as Jim
Easton, he went to the little Hotel des Beaux-Esprits, vaguely telling
the proprietress that he had travelled over from Cyprus. Some London
papers had just arrived and these, having come by a faster route, carried
the news to the second morning after his departure from England. His hand
shook as he searched the columns for the “Eversfield Murder,” and his
excitement and relief were altogether beyond description when he read
that George Merrivall’s housekeeper, Jane Potts, had been arrested and
charged with the crime.

Eagerly he turned to the recent copies of the local newspaper in which
the English telegrams were published daily, and here he read that the
evidence against the woman was of such damning character that she had
been committed for trial. He recalled how Smiley-face had spoken of this
woman’s jealousy of Dolly, and it seemed evident that she had followed
George Merrivall into the woods that day and had wreaked her vengeance on
her rival.

Mrs. Darling, then, had not notified the police! Doubtless she had heard
of the guilt of Jane Potts in time to prevent the further scandal in
regard to himself. She must have realized at once that since he was not
the murderer there was no good purpose to be served in revealing the fact
that he was still alive. Possibly, indeed, she may have hoped to profit
by Dolly’s death—she was the next-of-kin—and had no wish to resuscitate
the rightful lord of the manor from his supposed grave beneath the waves
of Pisa. He could quite imagine the pleasant, unscrupulous soul saying to
him: “You remain dead, my lad, and make no claim to the estate, or I’ll
force you also to stand your trial for the murder, whether you did it or
not.”

He was free, then! He wanted to shout the tidings to the four corners
of the world. He was free to go to Monimé, and to ask her to marry him.
For a short time longer he would have to hide his identity: he must wait
until Jane Potts had paid the penalty of her jealousy. Then he could
pension off Mrs. Darling, and, when all was settled and the estate once
more in his possession, the opportune moment would have arrived for his
clean breast to Monimé. She would understand; she would forgive! With
him she would rejoice that by bequest their son would be made heir to
a comfortable income and home, while they themselves would have the
means to procure that house of their dreams, somewhere beside the blue
Mediterranean, which should be their resting-place at desired intervals
in their untrammelled wanderings over the face of the earth.

The sudden simplification of all his complexities, the disentangling of
the web in which he had been struggling, had an immediate and palpable
effect upon his appearance. His head was held high again, his eyes were
no longer furtive, his step was buoyant. Not for another hour could he
delay his reunion with Monimé, and to the astonished proprietress he
announced a sudden change of plans, and was gone from the hotel within
thirty minutes of his arrival.

He reached Cairo at mid-afternoon upon one of those warm and brilliant
days which are the glory of early winter in Egypt, and was soon driving
out in the Mena House motor-omnibus along the straight avenue of majestic
acacia-trees leading from the city to the Pyramids, in the shadow of
which the hotel stands at the foot of the glaring plateau of rock on the
edge of the desert.

At the hotel he was told that Monimé was probably to be found at a point
about half a mile to the north-west, where she had caused a tent to be
erected, and was engaged upon the painting of a desert subject. He was
in no mood to wait for her return at sundown; and, without visiting the
bedroom which was assigned to him, he set out at once on foot to find her.

Through the dusty palm-grove behind the hotel he hastened, and up the
slope of the sandy hill beyond, from the summit of which he could see the
tent standing in the distance amongst the rolling dunes. Thereat he broke
into a run, and went leaping down into the little valleys and scrambling
up the low hills beyond, like a captive freed from the toils.

A few minutes later, mounting another eminence, he found himself
immediately at the back of the tent, and here a native boy, who had been
lying drowsing upon the warm sand, rose to his feet, and, in answer to a
rapid question, told him that the lady was at work at the doorway of the
tent.

Jim hurried forward, his heart beating, and the next moment he was face
to face with Monimé.

“Jim!” she exclaimed in astonishment, throwing down her palette and
brushes. “My dear boy, I thought you were in England.”

“So I was,” he laughed. “I was there just two days, and then ... I gave
it up.”

He could restrain himself no further. “Oh, Monimé,” he cried, and flung
his arms about her, kissing her throat and her cheeks and her mouth. She
made a momentary show of protest, but her face was smiling; and soon he
felt that droop of the limbs and heard that inhalation of the breath,
and saw that closing of the eyes which, the world over, are the signs
of a woman’s capitulation. No further words then were spoken; but, each
enfolded in the arms of the other, with lips pressed to lips, they hung
as it were suspended between matter and spirit, while the sun tumbled
from the skies, the hills of the desert were shattered, the valleys were
cleft in twain, and there came into being for them a new earth and a new
heaven.

When at length they stood back from one another, bewildered and
spellbound, their whole existence had undergone an irreparable change;
and each gazed at the other with unveiled eyes which revealed a naked
soul. Now at last, as by an instantaneous flash of the miraculous hand of
Nature, she was become blood of his blood, bone of his bone, and they two
were for ever merged into one flesh.

Quietly, automatically, she put away her brushes and paints; then, coming
back to him as he stood staring at her with a dazed expression upon his
swarthy face, she put her arms about his neck and laid her lips upon his
mouth.

“I never knew,” she whispered, “until you had gone that I belonged to you
body and soul.”

He threw his head back and laughed in his exaltation. “To-morrow,” he
said, “I shall go to the Consulate, and notify them that we are going to
be married.”

She nodded her head calmly. “Yes,” she smiled, “I suppose it’s too late
to do it to-day.”

The sun was going down behind the Pyramids as they returned with linked
arms to the hotel; and for a moment that sense of foreboding which is so
often felt at sunset in the desert, intruded itself upon his dream of
happiness. There were banks of menacing cloud gathered upon the horizon;
and from the village of El Kafr, at the foot of the Great Pyramid, there
came the far-off throbbing of a drum, a sound which always has in it an
element of alarm.

Jim turned to Monimé. “Tell me,” he urged, “that you have no doubts left
in your mind.”

“No, I have no doubts,” she answered. “You and I and Ian—we are bound
together now right to the end. It is Destiny.”

The period of three weeks which, by consular law, had to elapse before
the ceremony of their marriage could be performed, was a time of
blissful happiness to Jim. The open desert with its wind-swept spaces
of glistening sand, and its ranges of low hills which carried the eye
ever forward into its mysterious depths, enthralled him like an endless
tale of adventure, or like a native flute-song that rises and falls in
continuous changing melody. With Monimé he left the hotel each morning,
and, having conducted her to her tent, he would wander over the untrodden
wastes until the luncheon hour brought him back to her to share their
picnic meal. He would come to her again at sundown, and together they
would stroll back to civilization in time to see the last flush fade
from the domes and minarets of the distant city. Or, when the painter’s
inspiration failed her, they would mount their camels and go careering
into the wilderness, riding through silent valleys and over breezy hills,
talking eagerly as they went, and sending their laughter echoing amongst
the rocks.

For him it was a lazy, sun-bathed existence, rich in the abundance of
their love, and unmarred by any cares. He read in the papers that the
trial of Jane Potts would not take place before March; and with that
assurance he returned to his earlier habit of detachment from the world’s
doings, and did not again trouble even to glance at the news. Life was a
new thing to him: it had begun again; and the tragic events of the past
were, for the present, able to be forgotten.

Even a favourable letter from the publishers to whom he had sent his
poems hardly aroused his excitement, so deeply was he in love. It was
a somewhat patronizing letter, in which no great consideration for his
artistic sensibilities was manifest. The manuscript was accepted for
publication some time in the spring, on moderately satisfactory terms;
but it was stated that the firm’s discretion must be admitted, and,
owing to his inaccessibility, it might be necessary to rely on their own
“readers” in the correction of the proofs. He was told, in fact, to leave
the matter in their hands, and not to assert himself further than to
cable his consent to this agreement; and this he did, without giving two
thoughts to the matter. Some ten days later a contract arrived, which he
was requested to sign; and having done so, he mailed it back to London,
and went his joyous way.

Monimé had been commissioned to paint some pictures of the great
rock-temple of Abu Simbel, in Lower Nubia, far up the Nile; and it was
therefore decided that they should go there immediately after their
marriage, by which time her work in the neighbourhood of the Pyramids
would be completed. To this Jim looked forward eagerly; for there was
something akin to rapture in the thought of faring forth, alone with his
beloved, into distant places, where they would be undisturbed by the
proximity of their entirely superfluous fellow-creatures.

At length the great day arrived, and, driving into Cairo, they were
married in ten minutes at the Consulate, and thence they sped across to
the English church, where the religious ceremony was quietly performed.
That night, as in a dream, they travelled by sleeping-car to Luxor, and,
next day, continued their ecstatic way to the Nubian frontier. Here the
railroad terminates, and the remainder of the journey, therefore, had to
be made by river.

The dahabiyeh which they had chartered awaited them at Shallâl, over
against Philæ, just above the First Cataract; and their settling in was
much simplified by the fact that the local police officer, sauntering
on the wharf, recognized Jim, and at once put himself at their service.
He had been in charge of the camel patrol which used to visit the gold
mines; and Jim had shown him some kindness, which now he endeavoured to
return by a noisy but effective show of his authority and patronage.

The vessel was not large, the interior accommodation consisting of a
white-painted saloon, a narrow passage, from which a small cabin and a
bathroom led off, and a fair-sized bedroom at the stern. Above their
apartments was the deck, across which awnings of richly-coloured Arab
tenting were drawn when the ship was not under sail. In the prow were the
kitchen and quarters of the native sailors.

Abu Simbel is a hundred and seventy miles up stream from Shallâl; and,
sailing from silver dawn to golden sunset, and mooring each night under
the jewelled indigo of the skies, the journey occupied some five
enchanted days. The beauty of the rugged country and their own hearts’
happiness, caused the hours to pass with the rapidity of a dream. Even
the heat of the powerful sun seemed to be mitigated for them by the
prevalent north-west wind, which bellied out the great sail and drove the
heavy prow forward so that it divided the waters into two singing waves.

Now they sailed past dense and silent groves of palms backed by
precipitous rocks; now they shattered the reflections of glacier-like
slopes of yellow sand marked by no footprints; and now they glided into
the shadow of dark and towering cliffs. Sometimes a ruined and lonely
temple of the days of the Pharaohs would drift across the theatre of
their vision; sometimes the huts of a village, built upon the shelving
sides of a hill, would pass before their eyes and slide away into the
distance; and sometimes across the water there would come to their ears
the dreamy creaking of a _sâkiyeh_, or water-wheel, and the song of the
naked boy who drove the blindfolded oxen round and round its rickety
platform.

At length in the darkness of early night they moored under the terrace
of the great temple of Abu Simbel, and awoke at daybreak to see from the
window of their cabin the four colossal statues of Rameses gazing high
across their little vessel towards the dawn.

These mighty figures, sixty feet and more in height, carved out of the
face of the cliff, sit in a solemn row, two on each side of the doorway
which leads into the vast halls excavated in the living rock. Their
serene eyes are fixed upon the eastern horizon, their lips are a little
smiling, their hands rest placidly upon their knees; and now, in the
first light of morning, they loomed out of the fading shadow like cold,
calm figures of destiny, knowing all that the day would bring forth and
finding in that knowledge no cause for vexation.

With a simultaneous impulse Jim and Monimé rose from their bed, and,
quickly dressing, hastened up the sandy path to the terrace of the
temple, that they might see the first rays of the sun strike upon those
great, unblinking eyes.

They had not long to wait. Suddenly a warm flush suffused the pale, rigid
faces, a flush that did not seem to be thrown from the sunrise. It was
as though some internal flame of vitality had transmuted the hard rock
into living flesh; it was as though the blood were coursing through the
solid stone, and miraculous, monstrous life were come into being at the
touch of the god of the sun. The eyes seemed to open wider, the lips to
be about to open, the nostrils to dilate....

Monimé clasped hold of Jim’s hand. “They are going to speak,” she
exclaimed. “They are going to rise up from their four thrones.”

In awe they stood, a little Hop o’ my Thumb and his wife, staring up
out of the blue shadows of the terrace to the huge, flushed faces above
them. But the miracle was quickly ended. The sun ascended from behind the
eastern hills, and in its full radiance the colossal figures were once
more turned to inanimate stone, to wait until to-morrow’s recurrence of
that one supreme moment in which the pulse of life is vouchsafed to them.



Chapter XIX: LOVE IN THE WILDERNESS


During the day the dahabiyeh was towed a few yards to the south of the
great bluff of rock in which the temple is cut, and was moored in a
small, secluded bay, where it would be sheltered from the prying eyes
of tourists who would be coming ashore from the weekly steamer. Here,
on the one side, there were slopes of sand topped by palms and acacias,
behind which were precipitous cliffs; and, on the other, the wide river
stretched out to the opposite bank, where, amongst the trees at the foot
of the rocky hills, stood the brown huts of the village of Farêk.

It was a hot little cove, and by day the sun beat down from cloudless
blue skies upon the white dahabiyeh; but the richly-coloured awnings
protected the deck, and a constant breeze brought a delectable coolness
through the open windows of the cabins below, fluttering the little green
silk curtains and gently swinging the hanging lamps. By night the moon
and the stars shone down from the amazing vault of the heavens, and were
reflected with such clarity in the still water of the bay that the vessel
seemed to be floating in mid-air with planets above and below.

A scramble over the sand and the boulders around the foot of the headland
brought one to the terraced forecourt of the temple where sat the four
colossal statues; and at the side of this there was a mighty slope of
golden sand, sweeping down from the summit of the cliffs, as though in an
attempt to engulf the whole temple. A laborious climb up this drift led
to the flat, open desert, which extended away into the distance, until,
sharply defined against the intense blue of the sky, the far hills of the
horizon shut off the boundless and vacant spaces of the Sahara beyond.

It was a place which, save at the coming of the tourist steamers, was
isolated from the modern world: a place of ancient memories, where
Hathor, goddess of love and local patroness of these hills, might be
supposed still to gaze out from the shadows of the rocks with languorous,
cow-like eyes, and to cast the spell of her influence upon all who
chanced to tread this holy ground.

Of all the celestial beings worshipped by mankind this goddess must
surely make the fullest appeal to a man in love, for she is the
deification of the eternal feminine; and Jim, having lately studied
something of the old Egyptian religion, deemed it almost a predestined
fate that had brought him to this territory dedicated to a goddess who
personified those very qualities that he loved in Monimé.

Hathor, the Ashtaroth and the Istar of Asia, was the patroness of all
women. Identified with Isis, her worship extended in time to Rome, where
she was at last absorbed into the Christian lore and became one with the
Madonna, so that even to this day, in another guise, she accepts the
adoration of countless millions.

Here at Abu Simbel, in her aspect as Lady of the Western Hills, she
received into her divine arms each evening the descending sun, and
tended him, as a woman tends a man, at the end of his day’s journey. As
goddess of those who, like the sun, passed down in death to the nether
regions, she appeared as a mysterious saviour amidst the foliage of her
sacred sycamore, and gave water to their thirsty souls; while to the
living she was the mistress of love and laughter, she was the presiding
spirit at every marriage, she was the succouring midwife and the tender
nurse at the birth of every child, and upon her broad bosom every dying
creature laid its weary head.

In this charmed region, where yellow rocks and golden sand, green trees
and blue waters, were met together under the azure sky, which again was
one of the aspects of Hathor, Jim passed his days in supreme happiness,
now working with tremendous mental energy at some poem which he was
composing, now tramping for miles over the high plateau of the desert,
whistling and singing as he went, and now basking in the sun upon the
terrace of the temple where Monimé was painting. The benign influence
of the great goddess seemed to act upon them, for daily their love grew
stronger, working at them, as it were, with pliant hands, until it
smoothed out their every thought and rounded their every action.

Each week the post-boat on its way to Wady Halfa delivered to them a
letter from England in which Ian’s nurse gave them news of her charge;
but this was almost their only connection with the outside world, for
they usually avoided the temple when the weekly party of tourists were
ashore. Eagerly they read these letters, which told of the boy’s
boisterous health in the vigorous air of an English watering-place;
and afterwards they would sit hand-in-hand talking of him and of his
future. Jim was immensely proud of his son, and many were the plans that
developed in his head for the child’s happiness and good standing. It
would not be long now before he would be able to confess to Monimé his
true name and position, and to tell her that a home and an income were
assured to the boy.

Love is a kind of interpreter of the beauties of nature; and in these
sun-bathed days Jim’s heart seemed to be opened to a greater appreciation
of the wonders of creation than he had ever known before. In the winter
season there is an amazing brilliancy of colour in a Nubian landscape,
and the air is so clear that to him it seemed as though he were ever
looking at some vast kaleidoscopic pattern of glittering jewels set
in green and blue and gold, to which his brain responded with radiant
scintillations of feeling.

In whatever direction his eyes chanced to turn he found some sight
to charm him. Now it was a kingfisher hovering in mid-air beside the
dahabiyeh, or falling like a stone into the water; now it was a bronzed
goatherd, flute in hand, wandering with his flock under the acacias
beside the water; and now it was a desert hare, with its little white
tail, bounding away over the plateau at the summit of the cliffs.
Sometimes a great flight of red flamingos would pass slowly across the
blue sky; or in the darkness of the night the whirr of unseen wings
would tell of the migration of a flock of wild duck. Sometimes in his
rambles he would disturb the slumbers of a little jackal, which would go
scuttling off into the desert, while he waved his hand to it. Or again, a
lizard basking on a rock, or a pair of white butterflies dancing in the
sunlit air, would hold him for a moment enthralled.

The grasses and creepers which grew amidst the tumbled boulders at the
edge of the Nile would now attract his attention; and again a great palm,
spreading its rustling branches to the sunlight and casting a liquid blue
shadow upon the ground, would hold his gaze. Here there was the ribbed
back of a sand-drift to delight him with its symmetry; there a distant
headland jutting out into the mirror of the water. Sometimes he would
lie face downwards upon the sand to admire the vari-coloured pebbles and
fragments of stone—gypsum, quartz, flint, cornelian, diorite, syenite,
hæmatite, serpentine, granite, and so forth; and sometimes he would go
racing over the desert, bewitched by the riotous north wind itself and
the sparkle of the air.

But ever he came back at length to the woman who, like the presiding
Hathor, was the fount of this overflowing happiness of his heart. In the
glory of the day he watched her as she walked in the sunlight, the breeze
fluttering her pretty dress, or as she slid with him, laughing, down the
slope of the great sand-drift beside the temple; or again as she ran
hand-in-hand with him along the edge of the river after a morning swim,
her black hair let down and tossing about her shoulders.

By night he watched her as she stood in the star-light, like a mysterious
spirit of this ancient land; or as she came out from the dark halls of
the temple, like the goddess herself, gliding towards him in a moonbeam
with divine white arms extended, and the smile of everlasting love
upon her shadowed lips. In the dim light of their cabin he saw her as
she lay by his side, her eyes reflecting the gleam of the stars, the
perfect curve of her breast scarcely apparent save to his touch, and her
whispered words coming to him out of the veil of the midnight.

It is not easy to select from the nebulous narrative of these secluded
days any particular occurrence which may here be recorded; yet there
was no lack of incident, no dulness, no stagnation, such as he had
experienced in the seclusion of Eversfield. Towards sunset one afternoon
he and she were walking together upon the high desert at the summit of
the cliffs, and were traversing an area which in Pharaonic days was used
as a cemetery. Here there are a number of small square tomb-shafts cut
perpendicularly into the flat surface of the rock, at the bottom of which
the mummies of the Nubian princes of this district were interred. These
burials have all been ransacked in past ages by thieves in search of the
golden ornaments which were placed upon the bodies; and now the shafts
lie open, partially filled with blown sand.

Presently Jim paused to throw a stone at a mark which chanced to present
itself; but, missing his aim, he picked up a handful of pebbles and threw
them one by one at his target until his idle purpose was accomplished.
Meanwhile Monimé had strolled ahead, and Jim now ran forward to overtake
her. The setting sun, however, dazzled his eyes, and suddenly he stumbled
at the brink of one of these open tombs. There was a confused moment in
which he clutched desperately at the edge of the rock, and then, falling
backwards, his head struck the side of the shaft, and he went crashing
to the bottom, twenty feet below, landing upon the soft sand with a thud
which seemed to shake the very teeth in his jaws.

For some moments he sat dazed, while little points of light danced before
his eyes, and the blood slowly ran down his cheek from a wound amidst his
hair. Then he looked around him at the four solid walls which imprisoned
him, and up at the square of the blue sky above him, and swore aloud at
himself for a fool.

A few seconds later the horrified face of Monimé came into view at the
top of the shaft, and, to reassure her, he broke into laughter, telling
her he was unhurt and describing how the accident had happened.

“But your head’s bleeding,” she cried in anguish. “Where’s your
handkerchief?”

“Haven’t got one,” he laughed. “Lend me yours.”

She threw down to him an absurd little wisp of cambric, with which he
endeavoured vainly to staunch the red flow.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “It’s only a little cut. How the devil am I to
get out of this?”

She plied him with anxious questions; and presently, recklessly ripping
off the flounce of her muslin dress, she tossed it to him, telling him to
bandage the wound with it.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to go back to the boat,” he said, “and get a rope
and a sailor to hold it. I’m most awfully sorry.”

She would not go for help until she had satisfied herself that he was in
no danger; and when at last she left him it was with the assurance that
she would be back with all possible speed.

“Try rolling down the big sand-drift,” he said, anxious to be jocular.
“It’s the quickest way. I did it yesterday, and was down in no time. It’s
a pity you haven’t a tea-tray about you: it makes a fine toboggan.”

But when he was alone he leant heavily against the wall, feeling dizzy
from the loss of blood and suffering considerable pain. Presently his
attention was attracted by one of those hard, black desert beetles which
are to be seen so frequently in Egypt parading busily over the sand with
creaking armour: it was hurrying to and fro at the foot of the wall,
vainly seeking for a way of escape from the prison into which it had
evidently tumbled but a short time before. Upon the sand around him there
were the dried remains of others of its tribe which had fallen down the
shaft and had perished of starvation; and in one corner there was the
skeleton of a jerboa which had died in like manner.

For a considerable time he sat staring stupidly at this beetle and
mopping his head with the muslin flounce; but at last Monimé returned
with two native sailors, who speedily lowered a rope to him. To climb the
twenty feet to the surface, however, was no easy matter in his stiff and
exhausted condition; and very laboriously he pulled himself up, barking
his shins and his knuckles painfully against the rock.

He had nearly reached the top when suddenly he remembered the imprisoned
beetle; and his fertile imagination pictured, as in a flash, its
lingering death. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I’ve forgotten something.”
And down the rope he slid to the bottom, while Monimé wrung her hands
above.

He picked up the beetle. “Come along, old sport,” he whispered. “Blessed
if I hadn’t forgotten all about you.” He placed the little creature in
the pocket of his coat, and once more began the painful ascent. The
exertion, however, had opened the wound again, and now the blood ran down
his face as he strained and swung on the rope. His strength seemed to
have deserted him, and had it not been for the two sailors who drew him
up bodily as he clung, and at last caught hold of him under the arms, he
would have fallen back into the shaft.

No sooner had he reached the surface than he carefully took the beetle
from his pocket, and sent it on its way. Then turning to Monimé, who had
knelt on the ground, he obeyed her order to lie down and place his head
upon her knee, whereupon she began to bathe the wound with water from a
bottle she had brought with her. She had also remembered, even in her
haste, to bring scissors and bandages; and now with deft fingers she cut
away the hair from around the wound, and bound up his head with almost
professional skill.

The two sailors were presently sent back to the dahabiyeh, and, as soon
as they were out of sight, she bent over his upturned face and kissed him
again and again. To his great surprise he felt her tears upon his cheek.

“Why, what’s the matter?” he asked, tenderly passing the back of his hand
across her eyes. “Did I give you an awful fright?”

“No, it isn’t that,” she answered, trying to smile. “I’m only being
sentimental. I was thinking about your beetle, and about the text in the
Bible that says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of
these....’”

It was not many days before Jim had fully recovered from his hurts. The
bracing air of Lower Nubia at this season of the year is not conducive to
sickness. The vigorous north-west wind seems to sweep the mind clear of
all suggestion of ailment, and the sun to purge it of even the thought
of infirmity. Monimé, indeed, had difficulty in persuading him to submit
at all to her ministrations, dear though they were to him; for the heart
is here set upon the idea of physical well-being, and nature thus heals
herself.

Sometimes, as Jim walked upon the cliffs in the splendour of the day, his
nerves tingling with the joy of life, his thoughts went back to those
long years at Eversfield, and he compared his present attitude of mind
with that he had known at the manor. There the grey steeples and towers
of Oxford, seen beyond the haze of the trees, were sedative and subduing.
There the passionate heart was tempered, the violent thought was sobered,
the emotions were quieted.

But here the brilliant sunlight, the sparkling air, and the great open
spaces, induced a grand heedlessness, a fine improvidence, a riotous
prodigality of the forces of life. Here a man lived, and knew no more
than that he lived; nor did he care what things the future held in
store for him. During these weeks Jim gave no thought to his coming
movements, save in a very general way. His mind leapt across the abyss
of difficulties which lay in his path, and arrived at the fair places
beyond, where Monimé and Ian were to travel hand-in-hand with him.

His attitude towards his little son was shaping itself in his mind
at this time into some sort of clear recognition of his parental
responsibilities, vague perhaps, but none the less sincere. As an
instance of this development in his character mention may be made of a
certain sunset hour in which he and Monimé were seated together upon the
high ground overlooking the vast expanse of the desert to westward of the
Nile.

In this direction, behind the far horizon, lay the unexplored Sahara,
extending in awful solitude across the whole African continent to its
western shores, three thousand miles away. For a thousand miles and
more this vast and almost uninhabited land of silence is known as the
Libyan Desert. Behind this is the great Tuareg country, extending for
another fifteen hundred miles; and beyond this lies the ancient land of
Mauretania, where at last, in the region of Rio de Oro, there is again a
populated country.

In no other part of the world can a man stand facing so huge a tract of
uncharted country, and nowhere does the call of the unknown come with
such insistence to the ears of the imagination. In this untenanted area
there is room for many an undiscovered kingdom, and hidden somewhere
amidst its barren hills and plains there may be cities and peoples cut
off from the outer world these many thousands of years.

It is the largest of the world’s remaining areas of mystery; it is the
greatest of all the regions still to be explored; for the sterile and
waterless desert holds its secrets secure by the fear of hunger and the
terror of thirst. The inhabitants of the Nile Valley declare to a man
that somewhere in this wilderness there stands a city of gold, whose
shining cupolas and domes are as dazzling as the sun itself, and whose
streets are paved with precious stones.

Jim had often talked to the natives in regard to this lost city, and all
had assured him that it truly existed, though no living eyes had seen it.

On this particular occasion, as he watched the sun go down amidst the
distant hills which were the first outworks in the defences of these
impregnable secrets, he was overwhelmed with the desire to penetrate, if
only for a few hundred miles, into this mysterious territory, and eagerly
he spoke to Monimé in regard to the possibilities of such an expedition.

She sighed. “I shouldn’t be able to come with you, Jim,” she said,
“however much I should long to do so. I have to consider Ian first.”

“Yes,” he answered at once. “I was not really speaking seriously. The
thought of what may lie hidden over there sets one dreaming; but actually
I wouldn’t feel it right now to go hunting for fabulous cities.”

He spoke with sincerity, and it was only after the words were uttered
that he realized the change which had taken place in his outlook. No
longer was he free to act as he chose: he had to consider the interests
of another, and, strange to relate, he was quite willing to do so.



Chapter XX: THE ARM OF THE LAW


At high noon upon a morning towards the end of January, Jim happened to
saunter across the hot sand to the terrace of the temple where Monimé was
painting, and there found her engaged in conversation with a benevolent,
grey-bearded clergyman and a stout, beaming woman who appeared to
be his wife, both of whom wore blue spectacles, carried large white
umbrellas lined with green, and wore pith helmets adorned with green
veiling—appurtenances which stamped them as tourists. Jim himself was
somewhat disreputably dressed, having a slouch hat pulled over his eyes,
a canvas shirt open at the neck, a pair of well-worn flannel trousers
held up by an old leather belt, and red native slippers upon his bare
feet, and he therefore hesitated to approach.

Monimé, however, beckoned to him to come to her, and, when he had done
so, introduced him to her new friends, whose acquaintance, it was
explained, she had made an hour previously. The clergyman, it appeared,
whose name was Jones, was a man of some wealth who was now touring these
upper reaches of the Nile on a small private steamer, in search of the
good health of which his work in the underworld of London had deprived
him; and Monimé, in taking the trouble to show him and his wife around
the temple, perhaps had a woman’s eye to business, for a painter, after
all, has wares for sale, and is dependent on the conversion of all
colours into plain gold.

Be this as it may, she now invited them to luncheon upon the dahabiyeh,
and Jim, not to be churlish, was obliged to support the suggestion with
every mark of assent.

The meal was served under the awnings, and when coffee had been drunk
Monimé took Mrs. Jones down to the saloon, while the two men were left
to smoke on deck. Jim was in a communicative mood, and for some time
entertained his guest with narrations of his adventures in many lands,
being careful, however, to draw a veil over the years he had spent in
England. The clergyman responded, at length, with tales of his life in
the slums, expressing the opinion that, owing to the failure of the
Church to adapt itself to the exigencies of the present day, callousness
in regard to crime was on the increase.

“Here’s an instance of what I mean,” he said. “I was walking late one
night along a well-known London street when I was accosted by a young
woman who, in spite of my cloth and my age, made certain suggestions to
me. I was so astounded that I stopped and spoke to her, and presently
she confessed to me that this was the first time she had ever done such
a thing, but that she was engaged to be married to a penniless man, and
somehow money had to be obtained. Now there’s callousness for you! Can
you imagine such a proceeding?”

“Yes, that’s pretty low down,” Jim answered. “What did you do?”

The clergyman smiled. “Ah, that is another story,” he said. “To test her
I told her to come to my house the next day and to bring her fiancé with
her; and to my surprise they turned up. Well, to cut the story short, I
agreed to set them up in business, and I gave them quite a large sum of
money for the purpose, hardly expecting, however, that it would prove
anything but a dead loss. You may imagine my gratification, therefore,
when I began to receive regular quarterly repayments, each accompanied by
a gracious little letter of thanks stating that things were prospering
splendidly. At last the whole debt was paid off, and the woman came to
see me, smartly dressed, and in the best of spirits. I congratulated her
on her honesty, and told her that her action had strengthened my belief
in the basic goodness of human nature.”

“‘Well, you see,’ she said, ‘we felt we ought to pay our debt to you, as
we had made in the business ten times the original sum you gave us.’

“‘And what is the business?’ I asked.

“‘Oh,’ she said, ‘we are running a brothel.’”

Jim leant back in his chair and laughed. “That’s an instance of the evils
of indiscriminate charity,” he said.

“It is a sign of the times,” his guest replied, seriously. “Look at the
callous crimes of which we read in the newspapers. Take, for instance,
the Eversfield case.”

Jim’s heart seemed to stop beating. “I haven’t been reading the papers
lately,” he stammered. “I haven’t heard....” His voice failed him.

“Oh, it’s a shocking case,” said Mr. Jones, but to Jim his words were as
though they came from a great distance or were heard above the noise of
a tempest. “A young woman, the lady of the manor, was found murdered in
her own woods, and at first the police thought that the crime had been
committed by a certain Jane Potts who was jealous of her. But she proved
her innocence, and then the mother of the murdered woman, a Mrs. Darling,
admitted that her daughter’s husband, who had been supposed to be dead,
was actually alive, and had visited his wife on the day of the crime. It
seems that he had wanted to rid himself of her by divorce, but something
happened which induced him to kill her instead.”

Jim’s brain was seething. “But if he was guilty, why did he go to see
Mrs. Darling afterwards?” he asked.

“Oh, then you have read about the case,” said his guest, glancing at him
quickly.

Jim struggled inwardly to be calm and to rectify his mistake. “Yes,” he
answered, “I remember it now.”

Mr. Jones bent forward in his chair and tapped his host’s knee. “Mark my
words,” he declared, “that man is an out-and-out villain. He had deserted
his wife, and had let it be thought that he was dead; and then, I suppose
because he was short of money, he came home, and murdered her when she
refused to give him any. My theory is that he believed he had been seen
by somebody, and therefore determined to brazen it out by calling on his
mother-in-law. He is evidently of the callous kind.”

Jim had the feeling that he himself, his ego, had become detached from
his brain’s consciousness. Distantly, he could hear every word that
was being said, yet at the same time his mind was in confusion, in
pandemonium. He looked down from afar off at his body, and wondered
whether the trembling of his hand was noticeable. He could listen to
himself speaking, and desperately he struggled to control his words.

“What d’you think will happen?” he asked, passing his fingers to and fro
across his lips. The sudden dryness of his mouth had produced a sort of
click in his words which he endeavoured thus to mitigate.

“Oh, they’ll catch him in time,” Mr. Jones replied, “though Mrs.
Darling’s reprehensible conduct in keeping the facts to herself for so
long has helped him to get clear away. His description is in all the
papers—dark hair and eyes; clean-shaven; sallow complexion; athletic
build; five foot ten in height....”

Jim smiled in a sickly manner. “That might describe me,” he said, and
laughed.

“Yes,” Mr. Jones responded, “I’m afraid it’s not much to go on; but
they’ll get him, believe me. I expect they’ll publish a photograph soon.”

Jim drew his breath between his teeth, and again his heart seemed to be
arrested in its beating. He wanted to rise from his chair and to run
from the dahabiyeh. It seemed to him that his agitation must be wholly
apparent to his guest: a man’s entire life could not be shattered and
fall to pieces in such utter ruin with no outward sign of the devastation.

He was about to make a move of some sort to end the ordeal when Monimé
appeared upon the steps leading up from the saloon, and invited Mr.
Jones to come down to see some of her paintings. He rose at once to
comply; and thereupon Jim lurched from his chair, and, holding on to the
table before him, looked wildly towards the slopes of golden sand which
could be seen between the vari-coloured hangings.

Monimé came over to him as the clergyman disappeared down the stairs.
“Hullo, Jim,” she said, “you look ill, dear. Is anything the matter?”

He tried to laugh. “No,” he answered sharply. “Why should you think so?
I’m all right—only rather bored by your talkative friend.”

She put her arm about him and kissed him: then, suddenly standing back
from him, she looked anxiously into his face. “You _are_ ill,” she said.
“Your forehead is burning hot. You’ve been out in the sun without your
hat. Oh, Jim, you are so careless!”

For a moment his knees gave way under him, and he swayed visibly as he
stood. “I’m all right, I tell you,” he gasped. “Go and show them your
pictures.”

Monimé’s consternation was not able to be concealed. “Oh, my darling,”
she cried, “you’re feverish! You must go and lie down. I’ll get rid of
these people presently: I’ll tell them you are not well....”

Jim interrupted her. “No, no!—don’t say anything. I assure you it’s
nothing. I’ll be all right in a few minutes. I’ll just sit here quietly.”

He pushed her from him, and obliged her, presently, to leave him; but
no sooner was she gone than he hastened to the _zir_, or large porous
earthenware vessel, which stood at the end of the deck and in which the
“drinks” were kept cool, and, selecting a bottle of whisky, poured a
stiff dose into a tumbler, swallowing the draught in two or three hasty
gulps. Thus fortified, he paced to and fro, staring before him with
unseeing eyes, until Monimé and their guests returned.

His anxiety not to appear ill at ease in the presence of Mr. and Mrs.
Jones led him to talk rapidly upon a variety of disconnected subjects;
but his relief was great when, with umbrellas raised and blue spectacles
adjusted, they took their departure and walked away over the hot sand
towards their own vessel. Thereupon he hastened to assure Monimé that his
indisposition had passed; and soon he had the satisfaction of observing
that her anxieties were allayed. But when she had gone back to her
painting at the temple, he left the dahabiyeh, and, scrambling up the
sand-drift like one demented, went running over the vacant, sun-scorched
plateau at the summit of the cliffs, flinging himself at length upon the
ground, where no eyes save those of the circling vultures might see his
abject misery, and no ears might hear his groans.

In the days which followed he so far mastered his emotions as to give his
wife no great cause for worry; but from time to time he could see in her
troubled face her consciousness that all was not well. On such occasions
the extremity of human wretchedness seemed to be reached, and the weight
upon his heart and mind was almost intolerable.

It was not personal fear of the scaffold that spread this horror along
every nerve and through every vein of his body: it was the thought that
he would not be able to avoid involving Monimé and their son in the
catastrophe, and that not only would he disgrace them, but would alienate
them from him completely. He realized now the enormity of his offence
in holding back from Monimé the truth about his former marriage and in
shutting her out from his confidences.

What would she do when she learnt the facts? Could she possibly
understand and forgive? Would the pain that he was to bring upon her turn
her love into hatred and contempt? Would she, the passionate mother,
forgive the wrong he had done to their son in placing this stigma upon
him?

Thoughts such as these drove him to the brink of madness; and the need
of secrecy and of facing the situation by himself produced an unbearable
sense of loneliness in his mind. He recalled the verse in the Book of
Genesis which reads: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should
be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.’” If only he could tell
her now, pour out his heart to her, and see in her tender eyes the
overwhelming sweetness of her understanding.... But he dared not: he must
fight this battle alone.

Gradually there developed in his brain the thought of suicide. Were he
now to destroy himself in some manner which would suggest an accident,
it would be Jim Easton who would be laid in the grave, without a stain
upon his public memory; and the lost James Tundering-West, the supposed
murderer, would not be connected in any way with Monimé or Ian. Without
question this was the only solution of the problem; this was the only
honourable course to follow, and follow it he must.

He found In this resolution a means of steadying his mind and of
regaining to some extent his equilibrium. There was a fortnight yet
before their return to the lower reaches of the Nile would bring matters
towards their final phase. Monimé wished to go to Europe as soon as her
work was finished, in order to be with Ian again; and it would not be
necessary for Jim to put an end to himself, therefore, until he came
within reach of the arm of the law. Here at Abu Simbel he could easily
avoid seeing any of his fellow men who might visit the temple from the
tourist steamers; and, fortunately, his friend the police officer at
Shallâl who had helped him to embark on the dahabiyeh, knew him these
many years as Mr. Easton, presumably a resident in Egypt, and would
vouch for him if occasion arose. Very possibly he might reach Cairo or
even the homeward-bound liner without detection. Then, an accidental
fall at midnight from the deck into the sea—and his obligation would be
honourably fulfilled.

Yes, that was it: that was his obligation. For the first time in his
life he understood thoroughly and wholly the meaning of the word. “It is
my duty,” he muttered over and over again. “It is my duty at all costs
to prevent any scandal which would hurt Monimé or Ian.” He had so often
asked himself the meaning of that strange term “duty,” and now he knew.
Love had taught him.

Fortunately, Monimé was very hard at work on the completion of her
paintings, and he was therefore able to go away alone into the desert
for hours at a time, under the pretence of writing his verses, and thus
obtain a respite from the strain of appearing cheerful and normal. The
great untenanted spaces soothed the clamour of his brain; and, wandering
there alone over the golden sand or the shelving rocks, in the blazing
sunlight, between the vacancy of earth and the void of heaven, there
passed into his mind a kind of calmness which remained with him when
Monimé was again at his side.

But the nights were made fearful to him lest in his sleep he should
reveal his secret. He would lie awake hour after hour in the darkness,
while Monimé slept peacefully, her head upon his encircling arm, her
black hair tumbled about his shoulder, her breast against his breast, and
he would not dare to shut his eyes. Sometimes, his weariness overcoming
his will, he would drop into oblivion, only to waken again with a start
which caused her to turn or to mutter in her slumbers. Once he woke up
thus, knowing that he had just uttered the words “Not guilty,” and in an
agony of fear he waited, propped on his elbow, to ascertain whether she
had heard him or not. She was asleep, however, and with beating pulse he
fell back at length upon the pillows, the cold sweat upon his face.

During these days, which he recognized as his last upon earth, he allowed
himself to drown his sorrow in the full flood of his love; and, like the
waves of the sea, he overwhelmed Monimé in the tide of his adoration,
sweeping her along with him so that there were times when the breath of
life seemed to fail them, and the silent rapture of their hearts had
near kinship with the quiescence of death. There were times when it was
as though he were eager to die upon her lips, and so to pass in ecstasy
into the hollow acreage of heaven. There were times when by the might of
his passion he seemed to lift her, clasped in his arms, into the regions
beyond the planets, there to revolve in the exaltation of dream, round
and round the universe, until the sound of the last trump should hurl
their inseparable souls headlong into the abyss of time and space.

But between these spells of enchantment there were periods of deep and
horrible gloom in which he cursed himself for his mistakes, and railed
against man and God.

“How I hate myself!” he muttered. “Life is like a prison cell where you
and your deadly enemy are locked in together.”

Standing at the summit of the cliffs above the temple, he would shake his
fists at the blue depths of the sky, or, with bronzed arms folded, would
stare down at the rippling waters of the Nile, and kick the pebbles over
the precipice. Occasionally, too, he turned for comfort to his guitar;
and at the river’s brink, or in the shade of an acacia tree, he would sit
twanging the strings and singing some outlandish song, his head bent over
the instrument and his dark hair falling over his face.

As the day of their departure drew near these periods of gloom increased
in frequency, and he was often aware that the troubled eyes of his wife
were fixed upon him, while, more than once, she questioned him in regard
to his health. His mirror revealed to him the haggard appearance of his
face, and in order to prevent this becoming too apparent he was obliged
to manœuvre his position so that, when Monimé was facing him, his back
should be to the light.

At length the dreaded hour arrived. Upon the glaring face of the waters
the little puffing steam-tug, which had been ordered by them for this
date, came into sight, bearing down upon them as they sat at breakfast on
deck; and soon it was heading northwards again, towing their dahabiyeh
in its wake towards the First Cataract which marks the frontier of Egypt
proper. For the greater part of the two days’ journey Jim sat listlessly
watching the banks of the river as they glided by; but when at last
Shallâl, their destination, was reached he pulled himself together to
meet the last crisis, and, by the exertion of the power of his will,
managed to appear as a normal being.

They made no halt upon their way; but, after sleeping for the last time
upon their dahabiyeh, moored near the railway station, they transferred
themselves and their baggage to the morning train, and arrived at Luxor
as the sun went down.

When they entered the large hotel where they were to spend the night Jim
hid his face as best he could from the little groups of tourists gathered
about the hall, and, telling Monimé that his head ached, hastened up the
stairs to the room which had been assigned to them.

But as he was about to enter, his destiny descended upon him. A door
further along the passage opened, and a moment later, to his horror,
the fat, well-remembered figure of Mrs. Darling faced him in the bright
illumination of the electric light. He saw her start, he saw her eyes
open wide in surprise, and, with a gasp, he dashed forward into his room,
and slammed the door behind him.

Monimé had preceded him, and her back was turned as he staggered forward
and fell into an armchair, his face as white as the whitewashed walls.
She was busying herself with the baggage, and did not look in his
direction for some moments. When at length she glanced at him he had
nearly recovered from the first force of the shock, and she saw only a
tired man mopping his forehead with his handkerchief.



Chapter XXI: THE LAST KICK


When the gong sounded for dinner, Jim protested to Monimé that he was
ill and did not wish to change his clothes and come down. For a while he
had hoped, in his madness, that when Mrs. Darling saw him again he would
be able to look straight at her and deny that he was her son-in-law. “I
evidently have a double,” he would say. “My name is Easton, madam; the
proprietor of the hotel will tell you that he has known me as such for
the last five years.” A fact, indeed, which was beyond dispute, for he
had stayed here before he went to the gold mines.

But now that the time had come he realized that this was fantastic, and
his one idea was to get away, so that he might make an end of himself
in decent privacy. He was not a coward: he was not afraid of death
or physical suffering. But with all his soul he dreaded captivity or
enforcement of any kind. The possibility of being chased into a corner,
of being handcuffed and put behind bolts and bars, of being compelled and
constrained, and finally led, pinioned, to the gallows, filled him with
horrible terror.

One of the most common forms in which a breakdown of the nervous system
shows itself is that known as claustrophobia, a fear of being shut up or
surrounded and fettered. It is a primitive and primeval dread to which
the disordered consciousness leaps back; it is a survival of the days,
æons ago, when man was both hunter and prey of man; it is, in essence,
the fear of the trap.

Monimé, from whom his mental torture could not be altogether concealed,
looked at him with troubled, anxious eyes. “Oh, Jim,” she said, “what
_is_ the matter with you? There’s something dreadful on your mind;
there’s something worrying you, and you won’t tell me about it.”

“No, there’s nothing, I assure you,” he answered, in quick denial. She
must never know, for knowledge of the whole miserable business might
bring contempt, and her love for him might be killed. Of all his terrors
the terror of losing her love was the most unbearable.

“Come down to dinner, dear,” she persuaded. “It will do you good.” She
bent down and looked intently at him as he sat on the edge of the bed,
scraping the carpet with his feet and staring at the floor, his eyes wild
with alarm. “It isn’t that you are afraid of meeting somebody you don’t
want to see, is it?”

His heart seemed to stop beating for a moment as he denied the
suggestion. She was beginning to guess, she was beginning to suspect.

“Oh, very well, then,” he said, unable to meet her gaze. “I’ll come down.
Perhaps, as you say, it’ll do me good.”

There was the black murk of damnation now in his soul, lit only by the
glow of his fighting instinct. The crisis of terror was passing, and now
he was determined not to be caught. “Go on down, darling,” he said. “I’ll
follow you in a moment.”

She put her arms about him and kissed him, smoothing his forehead with
her cool hand. “Whatever it is that is troubling you,” she whispered,
“remember always that I love you, and shall go to my grave loving you and
you only.”

He closed his eyes, and for a while his head lay upon her breast, like
that of an exhausted child. All the brawn of life had been knocked out of
him. Every hope, every dream, every vestige of content had gone from him;
and in these pitiable straits he desired only to shut out the world, and
to obtain, if but for a moment, a respite from the horror of actuality.

As soon as he was alone he went to his portmanteau, and took from it
his revolver, which he loaded and placed in his pocket. His intention
had been to appear to meet with an accidental death, but if he had left
it now till too late, he would have to blow his brains out. A Bedouin
wanderer such as he, he muttered to himself, must, at any rate, never be
taken alive: a son of the open road must never be led captive.

For a moment he stood irresolute at the open door of his room, and the
sweat gleamed upon his forehead. Then he braced himself, and walked down
the stairs. Monimé was not far ahead of him, and, as he turned the corner
to descend the last flight which led down into the front hall, she paused
at the foot of the steps to wait for him.

He saw her standing there in the light of a large electric globe, her
black hair as vivid as a strong colour, her skin white like marble, her
eyes occult in their serenity, her lips smiling encouragement to him;
but in the same glance he saw also a group of persons standing before the
cashier’s office in the otherwise empty hall, and instantly he knew that
the crisis of his life was upon him.

There, fat but alert, stood Mrs. Darling, still wearing day-dress and
hat; beside her was a quiet-looking Englishman who was the British
Consul, and with whom Jim had had dealings in his gold-mining days; on
her other hand was an Egyptian police-officer; and next to him was the
proprietor of the hotel, whose face was turned in contemplation of the
native policeman standing at the main entrance. It was evident on the
instant that as soon as Mrs. Darling had caught sight of him on his
arrival she had communicated with the police, who, in their turn, had
fetched the Consul.

As Jim appeared at the head of the stairs Mrs. Darling clutched at
the Consul’s arm. “There he is!” she exclaimed excitedly, pointing an
accusing finger at him. “That’s the man!”

He saw Monimé swing round and face them; he saw the policeman put his
hand to his hip-pocket, and turn to the Consul for instructions; and,
as though a flame had been set to straw, his anger blazed up into
unreasoning, passionate hate of all that these people stood for.

Instantly he whipped out his revolver and shouted to them: “Put up your
hands, or I shoot!” at the same time running downstairs and straight
at them across the hall—a wild, grey-flannelled figure, his dark hair
tumbling over his pallid face, and his eyes burning like coals of fire.
All the hands in the group went up together, and he saw Mrs. Darling’s
face grow livid with alarm.

Monimé ran forward. “Jim! Oh, Jim!” she cried, trying to seize his arm.

“I’m innocent!” he gasped. “But I won’t be taken alive by a damned set of
bungling parasites.”

Still covering them with his revolver he backed towards the garden
entrance, and the next moment was out in the chill night air and running
like a madman down the path between the palms and shrubs. The darkness
was intense, and more than once he fell into the flower-beds, kicking the
soft earth in all directions. He heard shouts and cries behind, but the
thunder of his own brain rendered these meaningless as he dashed onwards
under the stars.

Soon he came to the back wall of the garden, and this he scaled like
a cat, dropping into the narrow lane on the other side and continuing
his flight between the walls of the silent native huts and enclosures.
At length he emerged, breathless, into the open space not far from the
railway-station, where, under a flickering street-lamp, a two-horsed
carriage was standing awaiting hire.

He hailed the red-fezzed driver with as much composure as he could
command, and told him to drive “like the wind” to the temple of Karnak.
This, at any rate, would take him clear of the town, and near the open
fields; and to the driver he would seem to be but a somewhat impatient
Cook’s tourist, anxious to see the ruins by night. Perhaps there was no
need to kill himself: he might go into hiding and ultimately fly to the
uttermost ends of the earth.

As the carriage lurched and swayed along the embanked road, he turned
in his seat to watch for his pursuers; but there was no sign of them.
Yet this fact now brought no comfort to him. With returning sanity he
realized clearly enough that escape was impossible. Were he to hide in
the desert, the Ababdeh trackers, always employed by the police in these
districts, would soon hunt him down. Were he to take refuge amongst the
natives, his hiding-place would be revealed in a few hours in response to
the official offer of a reward. And, anyway, to abandon Monimé, and to
have no likely means of communicating with her, would make the smart of
life unbearable.

There was no way out, and his present flight resolved itself into a wild
attempt to obtain breathing space in which to prepare himself for the
end, and, if possible, to see Monimé once again to bid her farewell. The
jury at home would be bound to find him guilty: the evidence was too
damning. Some tramp had murdered Dolly, and was now lost forever; or
else, and more probably, Merrivall’s housekeeper had actually done it,
but was now unalterably acquitted. It was certain that he would be hanged
in the end, and it would therefore be far better to finish it this very
night.

In these moments he drank the cup of bitterness to the dregs; and the
comparative calmness which now succeeded his frenzy was the calmness of
utter despair. Thus, when the driver pulled up his horses in the darkness
before the towering pylons of the main gateway of the temple of Karnak,
Jim paid him off and approached the ancient courts of Ammon, determined
only to keep his pursuers at bay until he could make his confession to
Monimé and die in the peace of her forgiveness.

The watchman at the gateway, being used to the eccentric ways of the
foreigner, admitted him without comment, and left him to wander alone
amongst the vast black ruins, which were massed around him in a silence
broken only by the distant yelping of the jackals and the nearer hooting
of the owls. Through the roofless Hypostyle Hall he went, a desolate
little figure, dwarfed into insignificance by the stupendous pillars
which mounted up about him into the stars; and here, presently, he stood
for a while with arms outstretched and face upturned, in an agony of
supplication.

“O Almighty You,” he prayed, “Who, under this name or under that, have
ever been the God of the wretched, and the Father of the broken-hearted,
look down upon this miserable little grub whom You have created, and
whose brain You had filled with all those splendid dreams which now You
have shattered and swept aside. Before I come to You, grant me this last
request: give me a little time with the woman I love, so that I may make
my peace with her and hear her words of forgiveness.”

He walked onwards, past the huge obelisk of Hatshepsut, and in amongst
the mass of fallen blocks of stone which lie heaped before the Sanctuary;
but now frenzy seized him again, and, furiously resolving to meet his
fate, he swung round and retraced his steps back to the first court,
breathing imprecations as he went. Somehow, by some means, he must see
Monimé before the final production of the handcuffs gave him the signal
for his suicide, which it was now too late to disguise as an accident.

“Blast them!” he muttered. “Blast them! Blast them! I’ll show them that
they can’t go chasing innocent men across the world. I’ll shoot the lot
of them, and then I’ll shoot myself.” He stumbled over a fallen column.
“Damnation!” he cried. “Who the devil left that thing lying about?—the
silly idiots!”

Suddenly voices at the gateway came to his ears, and, with hammering
heart, he realized that he had been tracked and that his hour was come.
Thereupon he ran headlong through the dark forecourt of the small
temple of Rameses the Third which stands at the south side of the main
courtyard, and concealed himself, panting, in the sanctuary at its far
end, a place to which there was but the one entrance.

Here he stood in the darkness, fingering his revolver, while the
squeaking bats darted in and out of the doorway like little flying
goblins. Presently he could see figures lit by lanterns coming towards
him, and could plainly hear their voices.

“Here I am, you fools!” he called out loudly and defiantly; and the
searchers came to an immediate halt, holding up their lanterns and
peering through the darkness. “I have my revolver covering you,” he
shouted, “so don’t come close, unless you want to be killed. Do any of
you know where my wife is?”

“I’m here, Jim,” came her quiet voice in the darkness. “Let me come to
you.”

“It’s no good,” said the Consul. “You’d better surrender at once. You
can’t escape. Will you let me come and speak to you?”

“No,” Jim answered. “I’ll shoot anybody who tries to get in here, except
my wife. Let me have a talk to her privately, and then you can come and
take me and I won’t resist.” He might have added that by then he would be
beyond resistance.

The night air was chilly, and the Consul did not relish the thought of
waiting about while the criminal exchanged confidences with his wife.
He therefore sharply ordered him to submit, and took two or three paces
forward to emphasize his words. He came to a sudden standstill, however,
when Jim’s voice from the sanctuary told him in unmistakable tones that
one further step would mean instant death.

“Oh, very well,” he replied, with irritation. “I’ll give you a quarter of
an hour.” He pulled his pipe and pouch from his pocket, and prepared to
smoke. He prided himself on his heartlessness. He had once been a Custom
House official.

“You’ll give me as long as I choose to take,” said Jim, again flaring up,
“unless you prefer bloodshed. Come, Monimé, I have a lot to say to you.”

She turned to her companions. “Have I your word of honour that you will
leave him unmolested while we talk?”

“All right,” the Consul replied, setting his lantern down on the
ground, and casually lighting his pipe. His shadow was thrown across
the forecourt and up the side wall like some monstrous and menacing
apparition.

Thereat Monimé ran forward into the sanctuary, and a moment later her
arms were about her husband, and her lips were whispering words of
encouragement and love.

“Oh, Jim, Jim!” she murmured at last. “Tell me what it’s all about. They
say you were married and that you killed your wife. Tell me the truth, I
beg you.”

“That is why I wanted to talk to you,” he panted, putting his hand upon
her throat as though he would throttle her. “You must know the truth.
Ever since I met you again in Cyprus, I’ve been aching to tell you all
about it; but I was a coward. I so dreaded the possibility of losing
you.” He threw out his arms and then clapped his hands to his head.

She seated herself on a fallen block of stone, and he slid to the ground
at her feet. She was wearing an evening cloak, heavy with fur, and
against this his face rested, while her mothering arms encircled him, and
her hands were clasped upon his. The distant flicker of the lanterns made
it possible for him dimly to discern the outline of her pale face; and in
this uncertain light she seemed to become a celestial figure gazing down
at him with such infinite tenderness that the ferment of his brain abated.

At first in halting phrases, but presently with increasing fluency,
he told her of his inheritance of Eversfield Manor, of his marriage
to Dolly, and of the three dreary years which followed. Then briefly
he described his escape, his supposed death, and his wanderings which
brought him to Cyprus.

“When I went back to England,” he said, “it was with the idea of
obtaining a divorce, so that you and I might be married. I had come to
love you with every fibre of my being, and life without you seemed
unthinkable.”

He told her of Smiley-face, of his meeting with Dolly in the woods, and
how next day he had read of her murder. “I swear to you, as God sees me,”
he declared, “that I had nothing to do with her death. But who is going
to believe me? I was the last person to be with her: my supposed motive
is clear!”

He went on to relate how he had fled back to Egypt, and how, finding that
the crime was placed at the door of another, he had felt himself free
to ask her to marry him. Then had come the devastating news that he was
wanted by the police, and his worst fears had been substantiated when he
had caught sight of Mrs. Darling on his arrival at the hotel.

“The rest you know,” he said. “I ran away just now in a frenzy of fear
and rage; but that has left me and I am prepared. Feel my hand: it
doesn’t shake, you see. I am quite cool, now. They shall never take me to
the scaffold, Monimé. They shall never make our story a public scandal.
In a few minutes I am going to shoot myself....”

She uttered a low cry of anguish. “Jim, Jim! What are you saying? We’ll
fight the case. We’ll get the best lawyers in England to defend you.
They’ll have to realize that you are innocent.”

“Do you believe I am innocent?” he asked.

“Yes, yes!” she cried. “I believe every word you have told me. My
intuition is never wrong: and I know what you have told me is the truth.”

The relief he felt at her belief in him was immediate, and yet he was
not able to grasp at once its full significance.

“The jury won’t believe me,” he said. “I meant to die by what would
appear an accident; but things reached the crisis too quickly. I lost my
head. If I don’t end things here and now, our son will be branded as the
son of a man who was hanged. Once I’m arrested I shall be watched night
and day: there will not be another chance to die honourably.”

“You mustn’t speak of dying, my beloved,” she murmured. “If you were to
go, do you think I could live without you? I have got to bring up our son
and watch over him until he can fend for himself. Do you think I shall be
able to live long enough to do so if you have left me? If you die, Jim,
my life will be so smashed that even the power of motherhood will fail to
keep the breath in my body. If we had no child it might be different; we
would go together now, into the valley of the shadows, and side by side
we would find our way to the City of God, if at all it may be found. But
as it is, I can’t come with you; and you can’t have the heart to leave me
behind while there’s still a chance that you need not have gone.”

“Monimé,” he answered, “listen to me. There is no hope. You are asking me
to submit to imprisonment, a thing unthinkable to a wanderer like myself.
You are asking me to submit to a trial in which your name will be dragged
through the dirt as well as mine. You will be called the ‘woman in the
case’; my passion for you will be recorded as my motive. The story of our
love will be travestied and brought up against you and our son all your
lives. Whereas, if I end it now, most of the tale will never be told in
open court, and the whole thing will soon be forgotten.”

She laughed. “Do you think I weigh gossip against the chance, however
remote, of the trial going in your favour? Do you think I care what they
say against me in the court if there is any hope of your acquittal? My
darling, I shall fight for your life and your good name, which is mine
and Ian’s, too, to my last ounce of strength and my last penny; and in
the end there will be victory, because you are innocent, and innocence
shows its face as surely as guilt.”

“You really do believe what I say—that I had absolutely nothing to do
with her death?” he asked, still hardly daring to credit her trust. His
experiences with Dolly had left him with so profound a scepticism in
regard to female mentality that even his adoration of Monimé was not
wholly proof against it.

She looked down at him, and he seemed to detect an expression upon her
face which was almost defiant. “My dear,” she said, “as far as I am
concerned, even if you were guilty it would make no difference.”

He stared at her incredulously, for man does not know woman, nor can he
penetrate to the source of her deepest convictions. It was not Monimé, it
was no individual, who had spoken: it was eternal woman.

“Nothing can alter love,” she explained. “Can’t a man understand that?”

“No,” he answered, “only woman and God love in that way.”

Suddenly he seemed to realize to the full the glory of her sympathy and
understanding. It was as though their love in this moment of bitter trial
had passed the greatest of all tests, and stood now triumphant, the
conqueror of life and death.

All the years of misery were blotted out in the wonder of this revelation
of womanhood, and on the instant his desire for life in unity with her
came surging back into his heart.

“Monimé,” he said, “this is the biggest moment of all. Whatever I may
suffer will be worth while, because it will have brought me the knowledge
that our love transcends the ways of man. By God!—I’ll stand my trial;
I’ll make a fight for my life, even though the chances of success are
small. I didn’t know that such love existed.”

She laughed. “You didn’t know,” she whispered, “because, as I once told
you, men don’t bother to study women.”

He looked up at her in the dim light, and of a sudden it seemed to his
overwrought fancy that the sanctuary was filled with her presence, as
though she were one with the women of all the ages, pressing forward from
every side to tend him, to bind up his wounds, to stand by him in his
adversity, to forgive his sins. He saw her revealed to him as the eternal
woman, the everlasting companion, wife and mother, for ever watching over
his welfare, for ever acting upon a code of principles other than that
of man, for ever drawing knowledge from sources unattainable to man.
Of no account were the little shams of the sex, such as Dolly; they
were swamped amidst the hosts of the good and the true. It had been his
misfortune to encounter one of the former; but his disillusionment was
forgotten in the all-pervading sympathy which now enfolded him like the
tender wings of Hathor.

He scrambled to his feet and stood before her, gazing into her shadowy
face. “Come,” he said, “the night air is too chilly for you. You must
go back to the hotel, and I must go with these confounded little tin
soldiers.” His voice was cheery and his head was held high once more.

They came out of the black sanctuary hand-in-hand, and stood in the
columned portico before the entrance, in the dimly reflected light of the
lanterns.

“Well, have you finished?” the Consul asked, knocking out the ashes from
his pipe against the uplifted heel of his boot.

“Yes, I am ready now,” Jim replied very quietly.

He unloaded his revolver, shaking the cartridges into his hand,
thereafter holding out the empty weapon to the native policeman, who,
being a Soudani, was the first to take the risk of approach.

“Give me the handcuffs,” said the Consul to the police officer.

Jim extended his wrists, and as he did so his face was averted and his
eyes were fixed upon Monimé. On her lips was the smile of Hathor and of
Isis—serene, confident, inscrutable, all-wise.



Chapter XXII: THE SHADOW OF DEATH


Jim spent the night at the police-station, where a military camp-bed was
provided for him in an empty whitewashed room. Late in the evening his
overcoat, guitar-case and kit-bag were brought to him from the hotel,
the latter containing a few clothes and necessaries; and, pinned to his
pyjamas, was a sheet of notepaper upon which, in Monimé’s handwriting,
were the pencilled words: “Keep up your spirits. I shall come to England
with you, my beloved.”

A surprising languor had descended upon him after the excitements of
the evening, and it was not long before he fell into a profound sleep,
from which he was aroused before daybreak by the entrance of a native
policeman, who deposited a candle upon the cement floor and informed him
that he was to be taken down to Cairo by the day train due to depart at
dawn. A cup of native coffee was presently brought in, together with a
pile of stale sandwiches, which, he was told, had been sent from the
hotel on the previous evening; but, having no appetite, he placed these
in the pocket of his coat.

After the lapse of a dreary and bitterly cold half hour, the Consul
entered the cell, bluntly bidding him good morning. “I have orders,” he
said, “to bring you down to Cairo myself.”

“That _will_ be jolly,” Jim answered gloomily.

The Consul adjusted his eyeglasses and stared at him coldly. “I must
warn you,” he mumbled, “that anything you say may be taken down in
evidence against you.”

“That’ll make the journey jollier still,” said Jim. Now that Monimé
knew all, and had declared that she loved and trusted him, he was in
much happier mood, and could face the shadow of death with sufficient
equanimity to permit him to jest with his captors. But exasperation
returned to his mind when in answer to his inquiry he was told that
his wife had not been informed of his immediate departure, nor had the
authorities any concern with her or her movements.

“‘The sin ye do by two and two ye must pay for one by one,’” quoted the
Consul, to whom Kipling was as the Bible.

“Oh, shut up!” said Jim. “Get out your notebook and write down that I
declare I’m innocent and that the police are bungling fools.”

On the journey down to Cairo he and the Consul occupied a compartment
which had been reserved for them. A policeman was stationed in the
corridor, and the windows on the opposite side were screened by the
wooden shutters which serve as blinds in Egyptian railway trains. There
was nothing to do except smoke the cigarettes he had been permitted
to buy at the station, or doze in his corner, while his companion
complacently read a novel and smoked his pipe on the opposite seat,
occasionally glancing at him over the top of his eyeglasses.

Fourteen hours of this sort of thing was enough to reduce him to a
condition of complete desperation, and when at last the train jolted over
the points into the terminus at Cairo, he had almost made up his mind
to bolt and to attempt to return to England on his own account. He was
well guarded, however, and soon he was deposited for the night at the
Consulate. Next day he was taken, handcuffed, to the station, where he
was pushed into the train for Port Said under the eyes of a gaping crowd.
He was now in the charge of a Scotch ex-sergeant serving in the Egyptian
Police, who had been lent for the purpose; and on the following morning
this man, assisted by native policemen, conveyed him to the liner which
was to carry him to England.

Here an interior cabin had been assigned to him, a small glass panel
in the door having been removed so that he might be at all times under
observation; and here for the twelve weary days of the journey he was
confined, with nothing to relieve the tedium except an occasional visit
from the kindly captain, a nightly breath of fresh air on the deserted
deck, the reading of the novels which were considerately sent down to him
from the ship’s library, and the playing of his guitar, which by favour
of the Cairene authorities he had been allowed to retain.

His depression was deepened by his inability to obtain any news of
Monimé, but he presumed that she would know his whereabouts, and she had
said that she would follow him to England. At any rate there would be no
lack of money for her journey and the ultimate expenses of the trial; for
he was now, of course, once more owner of the Eversfield property, and
Tundering-West was again his name.

During these days his mind dwelt for hours together upon the problems of
life as they presented themselves to a man of his Bedouin temperament,
and clearly he began to see that it was not enough merely to live and let
live. As he lay sprawling upon his berth, staring at the white-painted
walls and at the locked door of the cabin, or as he paced the narrow area
of flooring or sat listening to the rhythmic throbbing of the engines, it
became apparent to him that the recognition of some sort of obligation to
society at large was essential, if only for the sake of his son.

He had always been an outlaw, hating organized society, and naming it,
like the wise Giacomo Leopardi, “that extoller and enjoiner of all false
virtues; that detractor and persecutor of all true ones; that opponent
of all essential greatness which can become a man, and derider of every
lofty sentiment unless it be spurious; that slave of the strong and
tyrant of the weak.”

Yet he saw now that to some extent it was necessary to conform to its
ways. The art of life, in fact, was to conform without being consumed,
to submit without being submerged. But in his case he had, by his
inconsideration, managed to put people’s backs up on all sides, and now,
when he needed their friendship, for his wife and his child if not for
himself, he was friendless.

He had contributed nothing, he felt, to his fellow men. He had carried
his dreams locked in his head, and only occasionally had he troubled to
write them down in the form of verse. He had squandered the gifts with
which he was endowed; he had wasted the years; and now, in his desperate
plight, there was no one to come forward to say a word in his defence.
Public opinion would declare him guilty, and he would have to fight for
his life not only against an absence of sympathy, but against a bias in
his disfavour.

Monimé, too, had gone her own way, ignoring the conventions, following
with him the law of nature and not respecting that law in the form
into which man has had to twist and limit it to meet the conditions of
civilized society. And now they and their son would be the sufferers.
They were a pair of outcasts; and yet she, as individually he understood
her, was a personification of the glory of womanhood. They were vagrants;
their love, at the outset, had been Bedouin love; and how they must pay
the price.

The troubles by which he was surrounded had had a salutary effect upon
his character, and had aroused him to his shortcomings. Before he had
inherited the family property his life had been of an indefinite and
dreamy character; at Eversfield he had been suppressed and rendered
ineffectual; but since he had come to love Monimé he had emerged from
this stagnation, and in the strongly contrasted turmoil of his subsequent
life he had, as the saying is, found himself.

As the vessel passed up the Thames and approached its moorings at
Tilbury, he had the feeling that, grasped in the relentless tentacles,
he was being drawn in towards the cold, fat body of the octopus against
which he had always fought. Perhaps he would be devoured, perhaps he
would be vomited forth unharmed; but, whatever the issue, he had no power
to resist, and must assuredly be sucked into that horrible mouth. There
had been times during the voyage when he lay in his berth, sick with the
dread of it; but now that his destination was nearly reached he felt an
eager desire to be up and fighting for his life and liberty.

There had been times, too, when he had turned with aching heart to his
guitar, and had sat for hours on the edge of his berth, playing and
singing melancholy ditties and songs of love. He was ever unaware of the
beauty of his voice, and he would have been surprised had he been able to
see the wrapt faces of the stewards and others who used to gather at the
door to listen, and who would sometimes peep at the wild figure bending
over the strings.

At Tilbury he had to face an army of cameramen who ran before him
snapping him as he came down the gangway in charge of two policemen.
A motor police-van conveyed him thence to the prison where he was to
await the formal proceedings in the magistrate’s court; and here at last
he experienced the full rigour of the criminal’s lot. Until now he had
been confined in rooms not intended for imprisonment; but here he found
himself in an actual cell, designed and built to cage the arbitrary and
the recalcitrant. The iron bars, the ingenious mechanism of the lock
and bolt, the inaccessible window, the uniformed warder in the passage
outside—these were all instruments of the great octopus, and obedient to
its word: “Thou shalt have none other gods but me.”

In the late afternoon he lay upon his bed in a comatose state, due to his
nervous exhaustion; but whenever sleep came upon him his active brain
created a picture of his coming trial, so dreadful that he had to fight
his way, so it seemed, back to consciousness to avoid it. He saw the
crowded court, and the hundreds of eyes that watched him as he stood
in the dock, and it appeared to him that the judge was none other than
the fat, leering spectre which at Eversfield had come to represent his
married life and its respectable surroundings. But now the creature no
longer coaxed and wheedled; it was impelled only by malice and revenge,
and the flabby hand was pointed at him in cold accusation, or raised
with a sweeping gesture to indicate the all-embracing power of the great
octopus.

In momentary dreams and in half-conscious thought his fevered brain
gradually formed into words this monstrous judge’s summary of his
actions, so that he seemed to be listening to the story of his life
as interpreted by his fellow men. “Vile creature,” the voice droned,
“coward, bully, and assassin, let me recount to you the steps which have
led you to the scaffold. As a young man you deserted the post at which
your good father had placed you, and, unable to do an honest day’s work,
you fled over the seas and attached yourself to the world’s riff-raff,
thereby breaking the parental heart. Having squandered your patrimony,
you came at last to some low haunt in the city of Alexandria, and there,
meeting a woman of loose morals, you cohabited with her, but deserted her
when she was with child.”

“It’s a lie!” he heard himself screaming, as he struggled to loose
himself from the grip of the attendant policemen.

“The facts speak for themselves,” the accusing voice continued. “You
deserted her because you had inherited your uncle’s money, and were
lured back to England by the love of gold. In your own ancestral village
you used your position to bully your tenants; you assaulted one of your
honest farmers, you insulted the saintly vicar, and the local medical
officer; you incurred the mistrust of the simple villagers. Your only
friend was a filthy poacher and thief. You pursued the most comely maiden
in the neighbourhood, and did not desist until you had encompassed her
downfall. But, having married her, you treated her like a bully, and at
length you deserted her, too, as you had deserted your former mistress.”

“Lies! Lies!” he shouted. “I will not listen!”

“Returning to your disreputable life in low haunts, you were involved in
a cut-throat affray in Italy; and, escaping from this, you pretended to
have been murdered, and allowed your assailant to stand his trial on that
charge. Thus you thought to escape from the bonds of wedlock, and with a
lie upon your lips you returned to the arms of your mistress, proposing
to her a bigamous marriage. But, fearing detection, and needing money,
you sneaked home; lured into the woods the sorrowing woman who, deeming
herself a widow, mourned your memory; and there did her to death.”

“I am innocent!” he gasped, looking about him in desperation at the hard
faces which surrounded him and hemmed him in. “Of her death at any rate I
am innocent.”

“You fled, then, back to your lover,” the voice went on, “and ruthlessly
involved her in your coming débâcle. When the officers of the law had
hunted you down you threatened them with death; but presently, running
from them like a coward, and being too craven to take your own life,
you were ignominiously captured, and brought trembling to this place of
justice. Enemy of society, lazy and useless member of the community,
wretched victim of your own lusts, have you anything to say why sentence
of death should not be passed upon you?”

Wildly he struggled to free himself, and so awoke, bathed in perspiration
and shaking in every limb. “O God!” he cried, beating his fists upon the
bed, “take away from me this vision of myself as others see me. Because I
have turned in contempt from the Great Sham, because I have dared to be
independent, must I pay the penalty with my life, and go accursed to my
grave? Must Monimé, must Ian suffer for my mistakes, and bear the burden
of my sins?”

For an hour and more he paced his cell in torment; but at last the door
was opened and a clergyman entered, announcing himself as the prison
chaplain, and politely asking whether he might be of service.

“Yes,” said Jim without hesitation, looking at him with bloodshot eyes,
“go away and pray for me.”

But his visitor was too accustomed to the bitterness of the prisoner’s
heart to accept this rebuff, and held his ground. “I am one of those who
believe in your innocence,” he said, “and that being so, I should like to
say that I am proud to meet you.”

Jim pushed the hair back from his damp forehead and glanced quickly at
him. “Is that a figure of speech?” he asked, menacingly.

“Why, of course not: I mean it,” the chaplain replied. “The whole
English-speaking world is under the deepest debt to you.”

Jim stared at him in astonishment. “I don’t understand,” he muttered.

“Well, you are the James Easton who wrote _Songs of the Highroad_, are
you not?”

“Oh, _that_!” Jim smiled. “The book is out, is it? I thought they were
going to publish late in the spring.”

“My dear sir,” the visitor exclaimed, “do you mean to say you haven’t
seen the reviews?”

“No, I don’t know anything about it,” Jim answered.

“But every man of letters in the country is talking about it. We have all
hailed you as the greatest poet of modern times. Why, the one poem, ‘The
Nile,’ is enough to bring you immortality. My dear sir, do you really
mean that this is news to you?”

“Of course it is,” said Jim. “I haven’t read the papers for weeks.” He
sat down suddenly upon his bed, his knees refusing their office.

The chaplain spread out his hands in wonder. “But don’t you know that
your arrest has caused the biggest sensation ever known in recent years?
First comes the book, and you are hailed as a public benefactor, the
friend and interpreter of struggling humanity, the genius of the age, the
uncrowned laureate of England; and then the discovery is made that you
are one with the James Tundering-West, alias James Easton, wanted on the
charge of murder. Why, it has been dumbfounding to us all. Nobody can
believe that you are guilty.”

“I’m not, padre,” said Jim quietly. “But the evidence is pretty damning,
you know. I _was_ there in the woods with my wife.”

“Well, you will have public opinion on your side,” the chaplain
continued. “A man like you, who has given so much to the world, will
certainly receive the maximum of consideration.”

“But ... but,” Jim stammered, a lump in his throat, “I’ve given nothing.
I’ve been a selfish beast, going my own way, ignoring my obligation to
society. Why, all the way home in the steamer I’ve been telling myself
that my life has been useless. And just now the judge said.... Oh, padre,
the things he said!... No, that was only a dream; but the fact remains,
I’ve been useless.”

“Useless!” his visitor laughed. “Why, man, you will be beloved and
thanked for generations to come. How little do we realize when we are
being of use!”

Long after his visitor had gone Jim sat dazed and overawed. He cared
nothing for his actual triumph, but there were no bounds to his
thankfulness that at last he might appear worthy of the love of Monimé.
He slept little that night. He was alternately miserable and exultant,
and there were moments when he could with difficulty refrain from
battering at the door with his fists, in a frenzy to be out and away over
the hills.

Daylight brought no relief to the confusion of his mind; and by
mid-morning, as he sat waiting for something to happen, hovering between
hope and dread, his head seemed nigh to bursting.

But suddenly all things were changed. The door of his cell was opened and
a warder entered. Jim did not look up: his face was buried in his hands
in a vain effort to collect his thoughts.

“There’s your wife to see you, sir,” said the warder, tapping his
shoulder. “You are to come with me.”

Jim sprang to his feet, his eyes blinking, his hair tossed about his
forehead. Down the corridor he was led, and up a flight of stairs. The
door of the visitor’s room was opened, and a moment later the beloved
arms were about his neck, and the warder had stepped back into the
passage.

“It’s all right, my darling!” she cried. “We’ve found the murderer. The
order for your release will come through at once: you’ll be out of this
in an hour or so. Oh, Jim, Jim, Jim, my darling, my darling!”

He was incredulous, and in breathless haste she told him what had
happened. She had come back to England by the quick route, and,
travelling across country, had arrived some days before his ship had
completed the long sea route by way of the Peninsula.

“Mrs. Darling came with me,” she said. “Oh, Jim, she’s been splendid.”

“What d’you mean?” he asked in astonishment. “She is my accuser.”

“Oh, that was only natural,” Monimé explained. “That was a mother’s
instinctive feeling. But we talked all through that terrible night
at Luxor, and long before we left Egypt I think she realized she had
made a mistake. You see, as soon as the police were able to prove that
Merrivall’s housekeeper was not guilty she at once thought it must have
been you after all, and she swore she’d hunt you down. She came to Egypt
with the concurrence of the police, who had an unconfirmed report about
your having been seen at Abu Simbel.”

“Never mind about all that,” Jim interrupted. “Tell me who did it.... Oh,
for God’s sake tell me they’ve really got the man!”

Monimé reassured him. “Listen,” she went on. “As soon as we arrived in
England I made Mrs. Darling take me down to Eversfield, and we started
our own inquiries. You had spoken of having sent your poacher friend
off to get Mrs. Darling’s address from the postman; so of course we
went first to the post-office, and Mr. Barnes was quite emphatic that
Smiley-face was only with him for a few minutes early in the afternoon.”

Jim’s face fell. “I feared as much,” he groaned. “You’re on the wrong
scent. You’re suggesting that Smiley did it.”

“I’m not suggesting,” she answered with triumph. “He _did_ do it. He has
confessed.”

He stared at her in dismay. “Good Lord!” he exclaimed, and, turning away,
stood lost in thought. He had not believed it possible that the poacher
was in any way connected with the crime, for his errand in the village
had seemed to account for his time, and later in the afternoon he had
returned with perfect composure.

“Has the poor chap been arrested?” he asked at length.

Monimé shook her head. “No,” she said, “he is in the infirmary at Oxford.
They hardly expected him to live yesterday, after all the strain of
making his confession to us and then to the police.” It was his heart,
it seemed, that had given out, a fact at which Jim was not surprised, for
when he had met him on that memorable day it was evident that he was very
ill.

“Poor old Smiley!” he murmured. “He did it for my sake.”

Monimé’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Jim,” she said. “I’m so cross with
you. To think that you never let me know you were a great poet. You said
you only scribbled doggerel. When I read this book of your poems I cried
my eyes out, with pride and temper and love and fear. Didn’t you realize
you were writing things that would live?”

“Good Lord, no!” he answered. “I thought you’d think them awful rot.”

The order from the Home Secretary for Jim’s release was not long delayed,
and soon after midday he was a free man once more, enjoying a bath and a
change of clothes at the hotel where his wife was staying. Here, when his
toilet was complete, Mrs. Darling came to see him, and he was surprised
to observe the affectionate relationship which seemed to exist between
her and Monimé.

“Jim, my dear,” she said, when the somewhat difficult greetings were
exchanged. “I am a wicked old woman to have brought such unhappiness
upon you; but you will know what I felt about my Dolly’s cruel end.” She
passed her plump hand over her eyes. “I can’t yet bear to think of it.”

“Yes, I know,” he answered. “But you might have realized that I would not
have done such a thing.”

“I see that now,” she said. “This dear girl has explained you to me, so
that I see you as clear as crystal. She has pointed out that you will
neither let anybody interfere with your life nor will you interfere with
theirs. You just live and let live. I hadn’t quite understood that, but
I see it now, and your poems, too, have helped me to understand. Isn’t
it true that if you once remove understanding from life you get every
kind of complication! It is our business as women to make a study of
the workings of men’s minds; but in this case I made a miserable hash
of it.... Oh dear, oh dear!” she muttered, and suddenly, sitting down
heavily upon a chair, she wept loudly, rocking her fat little body to and
fro.

Jim was not able to remain long to comfort her. He had determined to
catch an afternoon express to Oxford to try to see the dying Smiley-face
before the end; and he had arranged to return by the late evening train,
so that he and Monimé might go down next morning to join their little son
on the south coast.

He evaded a mob of journalists at the door of the hotel, and reached
Oxford after the winter sun had set, driving to the infirmary in a scurry
of snow. In an ante-room he explained his mission to the matron, who
seemed much relieved that he had come.

“He’s been asking about you all day, and begging us to tell him if you
had been released,” she said. “It’s almost as though he were clinging on
to life until he knew you were safe. He’s a poor, half-witted creature.
It’s a mercy he is dying.”

Jim was taken into a small room leading from one of the large wards; and
here, in the dim light of a green-shaded electric globe, he saw a nurse
leaning over the sick man’s bed. He saw the poacher’s red hair, now less
towsled than he had known it in the open, and of a more pronounced colour
by reason of its washing and combing; he saw the drawn features, and
the shut eyes; he saw the rough, hairy hands lying inert upon the white
quilt: and for a moment he thought he had arrived too late.

The matron, however, exchanged a whispered word with the nurse; and
presently a sign was made to him to approach. He thereupon seated himself
at the bedside, and laid his hand upon Smiley’s arm.

For some moments there was silence in the room; but at length the little
pig-like eyes opened, and Jim could see the sudden expression of relief
and happiness which at once lit up the whole face.

“Forgive me, forgive me,” the dying man whispered. “I didn’t know they’d
taken you. If I’d ha’ known that, I’d ha’ told them at once. I thought
you was safe in them furrin lands; and when your lady come yesterday and
said they’d cotched you and put you in the lock-up, I thought I’d go
clean off it, I did.”

Jim pressed his hand. “Smiley,” he said, “why did you do it?”

“Seemed like it was the only way,” he replied. “When I come back into the
woods to wait for you, I heerd you and her talking, and I listened; and
then I heerd her say as ’ow she’d make your name stink in the nostrils
of every gen’l’man, and I knew you couldn’t never be rid o’ she. Then
her come running past where I was a-hiding, and her tripped up and fell.
Fair stunned, her was. I thought her was dead, her lay that still. So I
reckoned I’d make sure. I did it quick, with a stone. Her made no sound.”

“But why did you do it?” Jim repeated.

Smiley-face grinned. “Because you was my friend, and her was your enemy.
Because I remembered your face that day when you was a-weeping down there
in the woods, and a-longing to be free again.”

He closed his eyes and for some moments he did not speak. At length,
however, he looked at Jim once more, and his lips moved. “Parson do say
God be werry merciful,” he whispered. “Maybe He’ll understand why I done
it. But I don’t care if He send I into hell fire, now I know you’re
happy. Tell me, sir, what be you going to do?”

“I’m going away, Smiley,” replied Jim. “I’ve got a lot of work to do. We
are going to find a little house overlooking the Mediterranean, and in
the years to come, when all this is forgotten, we shall come back here,
perhaps, and get the place ready for my son. You’d like my son, Smiley:
he’s a fine little lad.”

The poacher nodded. “When you come back here,” he said, “go down into the
woods and whistle to me the same as you used to do. I shall hear. I shall
say: ‘There’s my dear a-calling of me. Friends sticks to friends through
thick and thin.’ And maybe they’ll let me answer you....”

His voice trailed off, but his lips smiled. “Oh, them little rabbits,” he
chuckled.


THE END





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